Long Beach State won 22 games a year ago, and they showed they are capable of doing the same, as they shocked No. 10 Pittsburgh 86-76 before 8,215 fans at the Petersen Events Center.
The 49ers had four players in double-figures, led by point guard Casper Ware with a career-high 28 points, James Ennis with 19 points and two other players in double-figures—Larry Anderson with 12 and T.J. Robinson with 11.
"I knew they were good," Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said after the game. "I anticipated us being a much better team."
The biggest difference in the game came from the 49ers' dominance in the paint—48-31, outscoring Pitt in that area—and a 25-5 difference in fast break points. Not to mention that Pitt's bench—a total of six players that came off the bench—went a combined 0-for-6 from the field. The only bench points came on a pair of free throws from John Johnson.
Pitt trailed 46-35 at the half. It was the Panthers' largest halftime deficit since a nine-point deficit to Tennessee last year, and the most points allowed to an opponent at the Petersen Events Center since Notre Dame scored 46 in January of 2006. Robinson led Pitt with 15 points at the break, but the Panthers could not deal with a hot-shooting 49er team that was converting 18-of-27 field goals (66.7%), was outscoring Pitt in the paint 26-16 and on fast break points 13-3. Not to mention, the Panthers had two big men on the bench, Talib Zanna and Dante Taylor, with three fouls and two fouls respectively.
The game started off with a fast tempo. Woodall and Patterson each came up with a three-pointer early on for Pitt. In fact, Pitt's first two field goal attempts, until Woodall got the Panthers on the board with a three-pointer. Pitt couldn't get the transition game going, which could have advanced their lead. Long Beach State stayed close thanks to a fast break layup from Anderson, following Patterson's three-pointer—Pitt's second of the game.
Long Beach State went on a 11-2 run, building a 23-14 lead. Coming out of the first media timeout, the 49ers got two second-chance buckets, followed by a defensive rebound. They were able to convert their opportunities, while Pitt was missing out on those second chance points, as well as rebounds on the offensive and defensive end. Dixon called a timeout to halt a 6-0 Long Beach State run, and was forced to call a second one after a three-pointer from Ennis that put the 49ers up by 9. To this point of the game, the 49ers were outscoring Pitt in the paint 14-6, and 11-3 on fast break points.
Patterson cut the lead to five, 23-18, with a jumper from the wing just inside the three-point line. He cut the 49ers lead to three, with a jumper off the dribble. Pitt trailed by three, 25-22 after his second two-pointer with 7:40 left in the half. Robinson then got a three-point play after a drive, tying the score at 25-25 with seven minutes left. Robinson converted all three of his free throws in the first half.
Taylor played just six minutes in the first half. After getting his first layup of the game to tie it, 27-27 for Pitt, he picked up his second foul on the defensive end after that bucket. Dixon sent him to the bench with 6:26 left in the half.
The closest that Pitt got in the last five minutes was a long-range jumper from Woodall that tied it at 29-29. The 49ers went on a 5-0 run, up 35-29 with 3:58 left in the half. Even when Pitt came up with big plays, the 49ers had an answer. Robinson came down with put-back, trimming the deficit to 34-31. Ware answered the next time down, converting a three-point play, putting his team back up 37-31. Gibbs hit his first-three-pointer of the half, cutting the 49ers lead to 37-34. Ennis, on Pitt's next series, came up with a steal and a transition bucket on the other end, putting Long Beach State up 42-34. Dixon called his third timeout after that.
Zanna—spending the majority of his minutes filling in for Taylor in the first half, who was on the bench with two fouls—picked up his third foul with under a minute remaining. Freshman Malcolm Gilbert entered the game. Though Dixon would prefer to redshirt Gilbert, the play of Zanna and Taylor in the first half is proof that holding on to that redshirt isn't going to be an easy thing.
Zanna played 14 minutes in the first half, and contributed no points. In fact, Pitt used five bench players who combined for 28 minutes. Out of the entire group, the five players combined to go 0-for-2 from the field with one total rebound and four personal fouls; three of which belonged to Zanna.
The 49ers went up by as many as 13 to start the second half. Woodall picked up an early second foul in the second half, sending him to the bench and bringing in John Johnson. Johnson answered quickly, getting fouled on his drive to the net. He converted both free throw attempts, bringing the Panthers to within seven, 53-46. But, just like they had in the first half, the 49ers answered. A three-pointer from Anderson put his team back up by 10, 56-46. Anytime Pitt had anything on offense, Long Beach State always had an answer.
Pitt got within eight, 58-50, but at a price. Taylor picked up his third foul. Zanna—with three fouls—came back into the game for Taylor, a little over six minutes into the second half.
Pitt then started forcing threes. Consecutive misses from John Johnson and Patterson, combined with the 49ers answering, led to Long Beach building that lead. The 49ers went a minute and a half without scoring—something the Pitt defense hadn't been able to do to this point. The problem was, Pitt could not capitalize. During the same stretch, Pitt was 0-for-3 with two turnovers; poor shot selection a contributing factor. Long Beach State took a 62-50 lead with 11:53 left.
Pitt even put in the zone defense. After one stop, Woodall answered with a three-pointer, cutting it to a 62-53 Long Beach State lead. The Panthers got a steal on their next possession. Patterson came up with a big offensive rebound, then kicked it up to a wide-open Gibbs, who cashed it in on a three-pointer. Pitt now trailed 62-56 with just under ten minutes left in the half.
Long Beach, however, answered with a pair of buckets, including a steal by Ennis who took it down to the other end for a layup. The 49ers went back up by 10, 66-56. Just like we had seen all game, the 49ers seemed to have an answer for everything.
"All teams, they try to do a lot to stop us from running, we're clicking as an offense," Ware added. "It's a big win. We expected to win this. We knew, we were expecting to win this. We're a veteran group. Coach Monson did a good job of scheduling all these hard teams. It's about time we start winning."
Gibbs, another three-pointer, made it 68-61 Long Beach with 7:30 left. Pitt came up with another stop. Gibbs was open for a three, but passed up the open look to Johnson who forced another three.
That was as close as the Panthers got. Pitt kept forcing shots on offense, while the 49ers effortlessly moved through Pitt's defense. They took a 75-63 lead after a layup from Ware was called for goaltending by Patterson.
Pitt had another chance to cut it to within three, down 82-76 with a minute left—after a Long Beach turnover. Gibbs' three-point attempt was no good, and the Panthers could not get to the loose ball.
Does the win instill even more confidence for the 49ers?
"It's a long year," Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson said. "We have to go to San Diego State on Saturday, and we have to take care of business there. It's great for us to be recognized as a mid-major, but we have a lot of work ahead of us. I'm very proud.
"I have to thank Coach Dixon. A lot of teams wouldn't (schedule them). He did it as a friend. It was a class, just the experience alone. I've never been in this building. The fans were great. It was just a great experience."