PULLMAN - Say this for Dan Monson: He knows his basketball team well.
Monson, the Long Beach State coach, openly acknowledged prior to Wednesday night’s NIT game at Washington State that the 49ers might not be able to mentally bounce back after losing out on an NCAA tournament bid Saturday in a stunning loss to UC Santa Barbara.
Sure enough, the 49ers showed up only in the technical sense in the opening half, falling behind at the break, 36-18. The 49ers came alive after halftime and twice trailed by five points midway through the second half, but Washington State cruised home with relative ease in an 85-74 victory.
The Cougars (20-12), seeded second in the Boston College Region, will stay at Friel Court to play third-seeded Oklahoma State (20-13) in the second round at 8:45 p.m. Monday on ESPN2.
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“Hey – two more wins, we get to go to New York City and play at Madison Square Garden, which is something most every basketball player dreams of doing,” WSU coach Ken Bone said.
Klay Thompson, coming off a memorable 43-point performance against Washington at the Pacific-10 Conference tournament, led the Cougars with 25 points.
A few fans chanted “One more year! One more year!” to Thompson, who might pass up his senior season to turn pro.
Super sub Faisal Aden scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half for WSU. DeAngelo Casto totaled 14 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots, but he accounted for six of WSU’s 19 turnovers.
Casper Ware scored 21 of his 25 points in the second half for Long Beach State. A good chunk of Ware’s points came when WSU defensive specialist Marcus Capers was taking a breather, and Bone said Capers “did a good job” defensively on the Big West Conference Player of the Year.
T.J. Robinson added 16 points and 14 rebounds for Long Beach State. Greg Plater made all four of his 3-pointers in the second half (as did Ware) and scored 14 points for the 49ers.
A crowd of 4,213, which included few students, was treated to a wide-open contest. That did not translate into high scoring for the 49ers, because they shot just 38 percent from the field (23 percent in the first half, including 0-for-9 on 3-pointers) and 59 percent at the free-throw line.
Long Beach State finished 22-13 after losing two games following an 11-game winning streak. The 49ers shot a season-low 29 percent Saturday in the Big West tournament title game.
“Offensively, we just really lost some confidence in each other (the last two games) and started trying to do too much on our own,” said Monson, the former Gonzaga coach.