Bob Thomason's Pacific Tigers gave their longtime head coach one last memorable win Saturday afternoon, in what will ultimately be Thomason's last game at Stockton's Spanos Center.
Thomason was honored for his 25 years as a head coach as well as his service as a player at Pacific prior to the game against Long Beach State, and his team rewarded him with a 71-51 blowout win against the Big West champions.
With the win, the Tigers (19-12, 13-5) secure the second seed in next week's Big West Tournament. Pacific has now won four in a row.
Long Beach State, on the other hand, is skidding coming into the decisive conference tournament. The 49ers (18-12, 14-4) secured the No. 1 seed in next week's tournament at the Honda Center in Anaheim with a win at UC Davis Thursday night. But the two-time defending champions needed a strong comeback effort to defeat the surging Aggies and have now lost three of their last four.
"I'm not disappointed by how we lost tonight, but how poorly we competed," said Long Beach head coach Dan Monson. "You have to play like a champion every day, like we did on Thursday versus Davis, and we didn't do that tonight."
Pacific's Sama Taku led the game with 14 points and five rebounds. Colin Beatty added 10 points and Lorenzo McCloud finished with eight and six assists in the Tigers' 44 percent shooting effort.
For Long Beach, senior James Ennis, playing in his final regular season Big West contest, scored 12 to extend his streak of double-digit point games to 35. Deng Deng came off the bench for 11 points. The 49ers shot just 38.9 percent from the field and were a dismal 1-for-16 from the perimeter.
The 49ers have long been frustrated by Pacific.
Monson has have never been shy about his teams' trouble with the Tigers. Earlier in the season, after needing nearly all 40 minutes to defeat Pacific in the teams' first meeting of the season, Monson said, "I've never played Pacific, not with (former 49ers) Casper Ware or Larry Anderson or anyone where guys didn't get frustrated."
The frustration seemed limited in the early minutes when The Beach jumped out to a 9-2 lead. But soon enough, a strong man-to-man defense forced the 49ers into sloppy mistakes and Pacific came back to overtake them 10-9 with a Beatty three just over seven minutes into the game.
Down by just one, 12-11, Deng made a free throw and then dropped in a pass from Ennis in the paint for a layup, putting the 49ers up 14-12. But Tony Gill then banked one off the glass on Pacific's next possession to tie the game at 14-all.
From there, a Nick Shepard turnover turned into a Markus Duran three and the 49ers would not hold the lead again. Long Beach kept it close until the final minutes of the half, when the Tigers closed on an 8-0 run that was punctuated by a baseline jumper by Taku that was hit right before the buzzer sounded.
Pacific held a 31-22 lead at the half.
Long Beach would again try and jump back in the game early in the second half. The 49ers' zone defense was effective early but the offensive struggles continued.
The Tigers were up 34-28 when Taku was sent to line and knocked down both shots, sparking what would ultimately become a 12-0 run that put Pacific up 45-28. The Tigers never looked back.
The loss was worrisome for a Long Beach team that was largely considered to be a favorite going into the postseason a couple weeks ago. That status is now in doubt as the 49ers prep for Anaheim.
"In order to make NCAAs you have to focus as a team and play consistently. We are not doing that right now and that has me concerned," Monson said. "The hardest part of a tournament is that you can't have any lapses. You have to be consistent and focused and we need to find how to do that in order to win three games next week."