Long Beach State believes it can be great. The season just started, so anything still seems possible.
But in their first three games, the 49ers were less than OK against a decent opponent. If the 49ers were going to make a move, they knew they had better make some progress quick.
They took their first steps Wednesday night.
Long Beach earned its first quality victory, rallying for a 71-66 victory over Hawaii in front of 3,089 at the Pyramid. Forward Akeli Jackson and guard James Cotton led Long Beach (2-2) with 15 points apiece.
This was the first game that Jackson, the 49ers' most talented forward, asserted himself. He played especially well down the stretch as Long Beach erased a five-point Hawaii lead with 6:27 to play.
"This felt real good--this will boost my confidence 100%," Jackson said. "I wasn't too concerned about personal stats, I just wanted to win. But, yeah, this feels good."
Point guard Anthony Harris led Hawaii with 19 points. Guard Alika Smith gave Hawaii (2-1) a 60-55 lead on a jumper. But Long Beach's defense, sparked by point guard Rasul Salahuddin, was too much for Hawaii with the game on the line.
"Everybody came out focused to do a job," said Salahuddin, who scored 14 points. "We all did what we came to, and that feels good."
The 49ers played their most complete first half against a Division I opponent Wednesday, but still managed only a 35-35 halftime tie with the Rainbows. The 49ers led by as many as eight points twice in the first half.
Hawaii struggled against Long Beach's full-court press. Harris couldn't beat Salahuddin off the dribble and turnovers followed. Hawaii's offense stalled on several other possessions against Long Beach's solid half-court defense.
Salahuddin helped Long Beach to a 28-20 lead when he grabbed a loose ball and passed to Jackson for a fast-break dunk with 6:23 to play before halftime.
He led Long Beach with nine first-half points. Jackson made a nice turnaround jumper on the baseline to give Long Beach a 26-20 lead and dunked on the next possession. He was also solid on defense.
Long Beach might have taken control of the game if it could have stopped Justice Sueing. The Rainbows' reserve forward scored 10 points in the first half--mostly on impressive dunks and offensive rebounds. He finished with 15 points.
Long Beach did a poor job blocking out Sueing and his teammates. Sueing had four offensive rebounds and six total, and Hawaii outrebounded Long Beach in the first half, 17-10.
Salahuddin picked up his third foul with 4:29 left in the half.