After the first game of the day in Portland I was looking through my notes, waiting for the Long Beach State-New Mexico game to start. And then, like a gust of wind, it hit me. This simile was appropriate since I'm talking about the trumpet section of the Long Beach State band with the opening of Earth Wind and Fire's "In the Stone." The three ascending chords are the perfect way for a band to announce its arrival. And what an arrival. They filled the entire first row with ten trumpets (the best instrument there is, and I know I'm biased) that nailed their parts, and a nice solid low brass section. Their arrangements were exciting, difficult, and from a wide range of artists. They had "that" Cee-Lo song (sing along, you know the words), Rage Against the Machine, a couple Offspring songs, "Make Me Smile" by Chicago--the hits kept coming. After just their first song the 49er band established themselves as a contender for best band at the tournament site, and we still hadn't started the evening session.
This is not to say New Mexico was hopelessly overmatched. They were a good group themselves and on most other days would have been the favorites. They just ran into a buzzsaw in black and gold polo shirts. They also may or may not have been at 100%. The day after the brackets came out our band director at Portland had a question to ask us. New Mexico had contacted him and was concerned. It seemed many of their band fell ill at the Mountain West tournament the week before and might not be able to travel. Would the Portland band be able to cover the game if needed? In the end New Mexico's band did make the trip but it's funny how close Portland was to making an appearance in an NCAA tournament game after the basketball team's rough season.
After the thrilling pregame concert from both schools it was time to start the basketball. While just a 12 seed, Long Beach was a trendy upset pick, as I told my friend Joel. They had some very nice guards in James Ennis, Larry Anderson, and especially Casper Ware. The 49ers shot the ball well (39th nationally in FG%, 34th in O-PPP) and were tough on defense (56th in D-PPP). Not bad, then again the Lobos came into the game at 39th in O-PPP and 5th in D-PPP. The numbers suggested a very even game. Long Beach would have a very good chance to spring the upset today.
In this case the game was as even as the numbers suggested. After the first two minutes were scoreless both teams traded baskets and defensive stops. The defenses showed their ability to force turnovers with the Lobos committing 14 turnovers and the 49ers 15 for the day. In the first half the lead was never more than four points either way and with the halftime score 33-29 to New Mexico the prospect of a close second half excited me. This was what I had come to the tournament for.
The close finish I had envisioned almost didn't happen. After the score was tied at the 14 minute mark New Mexico went on a run to make it 51-43 with 11:36 to go. WIth the Long Beach band playing the Kill Bill theme at the under-12 timeout, perhaps coach Dan Monson told his players to take out the Lobos one by one. Whatever strategy he devised worked, as they scored six straight points to cut the score to 51-49 with 10 minutes to play. Part of it involved heralded point guard Casper Ware keeping the ball himself as he had 7 assists but mostly shot in the second half, finishing with 17 points. We were back to trading baskets and with five minutes to go a steal and fast break ended in a James Ennis #omgdunx to give Long Beach a 61-59 lead. Would the day's first upset come in Portland?
Unfortunately from there the Lobos scored the next 7 points to take a 66-61 lead with 3 minutes to play. It was only five points but against New Mexico's defense it may as well have been 15. Though they came within two points in the closing minutes their final loss came Thursday afternoon, on a cold wet day in the Northwest, far from Southern California. As I walked out into the cool afternoon, though, the fire from the Long Beach pep band warmed me a little. It may have ended in a loss for the mid-major, but their band can compete with anyone and I was happy to have heard them.
NEW MEXICO 75, LONG BEACH STATE 68 03/15/2012
LONG BEACH STATE 25-9 (15-1) -- J. Ennis 6-10 1-1 13; T. Robinson 6-15 0-1 12; C. Ware 5-19 5-7 17; E. Phelps 3-8 0-2 6; M. Caffey 5-6 0-0 11; E. Dervisevic 1-1 2-3 4; L. Anderson 2-5 0-0 5; P. Pappageorge 0-1 0-0 0; N. Shepherd 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-65 8-14 68. NEW MEXICO 28-6 (10-4) -- D. Gordon 7-10 4-6 18; K. Williams 6-11 2-2 16; H. Greenwood 3-6 4-4 12; C. Bairstow 3-4 1-2 7; D. Walker 2-7 6-8 11; T. Snell 0-4 0-0 0; A. Hardeman 1-2 1-2 3; J. Fenton 2-4 0-0 5; P. McDonald 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 25-50 18-24 75.
Three-point goals: LBSU 4-16 (L. Anderson 1-3; C. Ware 2-9; P. Pappageorge 0-1; M. Caffey 1-2; J. Ennis 0-1), NM 7-21 (P. McDonald 1-2; J. Fenton 1-3; D. Walker 1-3; K. Williams 2-5; T. Snell 0-3; H. Greenwood 2-5); Rebounds: LBSU 34 (T. Robinson 14), NM 30 (D. Gordon 13); Assists: LBSU 13 (C. Ware 6), NM 19 (K. Williams 5); Total Fouls -- LBSU 19, NM 16; Fouled Out: LBSU-None; NM-None.