UCLA transfer Tyler Lamb a difference-maker in his Long Beach State debut

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After winning its season opener against Hawaii Pacific, Long Beach State lost nine straight games in a variety of ways. There were blowouts, and there were also close defeats like their one-point loss to Loyola Marymount on November 14. Dan Monson’s team has traditionally played a brutal non-conference schedule, with the goal being to enter Big West play tested and ready to make a run at the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

But that can be a tough road to travel when doing so with a roster loaded with newcomers, and that’s been the case for the 49ers. The process of building chemistry is an ongoing one, and it certainly hasn’t come easy for Long Beach State. On Thursday night the 49ers welcomed UCLA transfer Tyler Lamb to the rotation, and the once highly-regarded Mater Dei product was expected to provide Long Beach State with some needed perimeter scoring help alongside junior point guard Mike Caffey.

And in his debut Lamb gave the 49ers a much-needed boost in the first half, scoring 18 of his 20 points to help Long Beach State build a 50-36 lead at the break. Long Beach State went cold in the second half as USC came back to take the lead, but a Mike Caffey driving layup with just over 16 seconds remaining proved to be the difference in Long Beach State’s 72-71 victory. Caffey scored a game-high 22 points to go along with four assists and big man Dan Jennings added ten points and eight assists as the 49ers snapped their nine-game skid.

In two-plus seasons at UCLA Lamb averaged 5.8 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, and his open-court style didn’t exactly mesh with what then-head coach Ben Howland wanted to do. As a result he made the decision to transfer to Long Beach State, and after sitting out for more than a year (he played just one game at UCLA last season) Lamb hit the ground running offensively. Against USC he also accounted for four rebounds, three steals and two assists, using his skill and athletic ability to impact the game in multiple areas.

Given how much Long Beach State struggled in the nine Division I games prior to Thursday, it wouldn’t be wise to state that Lamb’s arrival means that everything’s “fixed.” Against USC the 49ers went more than six minutes in the second half without scoring a point, watching their lead dwindle from 13 points down to two with 6:28 to go, and they shot 5-for-21 from three. So there’s still plenty of room for growth as Lamb and the five junior college transfers (they’ve been eligible since the start of the season) continue to mesh with Caffey and the other key returnees.

But there’s no doubt that Lamb will be an impact player for Long Beach State as they look to win another Big West regular season title, especially when considering how he played in his debut.

Illinois’ injury woes continue as starting center needs knee surgery

George Niang,Abdel Nader,Mike Thorne, Jr.
AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser
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Illinois suffered another blow in what has already turned out to be a brutal season.

Mike Thorne is expected to miss the rest of the season after tearing his meniscus. He reportedly underwent surgery on Monday to repair the injury.

Thorne, a transfer from Charlotte, was starting at center for the Illini and doing a good job of it as well. He was averaging 13.4 points and 8.4 boards, although Illinois has started off the season 3-4.

The reason for that slow start has mainly been those injuries. Tracy Abrams is already out for the season after tearing his achilles, and the Illini training room looked like a M.A.S.H. unit. Kendrick Nunn just returned two games ago from surgery to repair a torn thumb ligament. LeRon Black is still getting back to speed after offseason knee surgery. Jaylon Tate is back after dislocating a finger. Jalen Coleman-Lands was slowed by a stress fracture.

John Groce entered this season on the hot seat, and dealing with all of these injuries certainly isn’t helping his cause.

NEW PODCAST: Recapping Feast Week

Kris Dunn
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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We talk about a lot of stuff of the podcast today, mainly because a lot of stuff happened since we last spoke with you all.

For starters, we need to discuss the ‘realness’ of Syracuse and Xavier. Are they both truly top 15 teams, or do they just have top 15 resumes? We also dive into Chris Mack’s epic troll-job of Dayton at the Advocare Invitational final.

Other topics we touched on: Whether or not Scott is ever going to apologize to Wayne Selden, Wichita State’s tournament hopes, Texas A&M and whether we’d take Ben Simmons, Kris Dunn or Denzel Valentine today.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes right here. It’s the quickest way to get access on your cell phone or tablet.