Regular-season Big West Conference champion 73, no-name fourth-place lugs from Logan 86.
Now, the theories as to why:
It's Bill Shumard's fault.
It had to be, right? Shumard, 0-3 in Big West tournament games as athletic director at Cal State Fullerton, was appointed interim AD at Long Beach on Friday and look what happened on Saturday.
"Nice going, you're 0-1," several Long Beach officials kidded Shumard outside the media room at the Lawlor Events Center.
Shumard, clad in a black-and-gold "BEACH" sweatshirt, turned several shades of pale as he contemplated his second day on the job.
"We're very athletic," Shumard said softly, "but sometimes we have problems with the finesse part of the game. We don't shoot free throws very well . . . The ball took some strange bounces . . . I thought we matched up very well with Utah State . . . "
What could he say? Long Beach, regular-season conference champion for the first time in 18 years, had just blown its one and only chance at a second consecutive NCAA appearance by going one-and-out at Reno.
"We knew what the situation was with this conference," Shumard said, alluding to the Big West's weak national power rating. "You know you're going into this tournament playing for one [NCAA] spot. That's a lot of pressure on the kids. Maybe it was too much."
It's James Cotton's fault.
Cotton, the leading scorer in the Big West with a 19.7 average, had nine points at halftime and didn't score again for 14 1/2 minutes. He finished with 15 points on 5-of-16 shooting--3-of-11 from three-point range.
Between Cotton's third basket and his fourth, Long Beach went from three points up (33-30) to 11 points down (67-56).
"Subpar," Cotton said. "I didn't play the way I'm capable of playing."
Utah State contributed, Cotton claimed, by extending its zone so far out that "I was catching the ball 26, 27 feet out. I normally shoot a lot of long threes, but let's be honest, I was getting the ball seven feet behind the line. I was so far out, I couldn't even see the line."
Long Beach Coach Seth Greenberg agreed that the Aggies "cheated out on the zone," but quickly added that while they were out there, "they fouled James every time he got the ball.
"Every time he came off a screen, they hit him. Every time he drove to the basket, they hit him. They fouled him so many times, the refs decided they were only going to call a fraction of them."
Cotton offered no such excuse.
"I took too many bad shots," Cotton said and, well, the video evidence will surely back him up.
Those damn free throws again.
Last year, the 49ers never practiced free throws and they missed 14 of them in a first-round NCAA loss to Utah. Now, they do practice foul shots, or so rumor has it, but Saturday, practice didn't make perfect, it didn't even break 50%.
Long Beach was 10 of 21 from the line against Utah State (48%)--including 5 of 13 in the second half (39%). Utah State made 21 of 29 foul shots in the second half--16 more than the 49ers--and wound up winning by 13.
It's the Big West's fault.
Greenberg was the leading proponent of this one, claiming that the Big West was wrong to change the tournament format, wrong to give Long Beach a first-round bye, wrong to put the tournament in the tournament in Reno.
"I think the [six-team] format stinks," Greenberg groused. "It's an embarrassment they don't allow everyone in. Are we a 10-team conference or a six-team conference?"
Greenberg accused the host school, Nevada, of "trying to buy the Big West Tournament. No one can compete with a gaming city and all the hotels here. If the idea is a city trying to buy the Big West championship, what kind of message are we sending our kids?"
Greenberg railed on: "I don't think the tournament should be in a gaming city. What's the biggest fear of every college administrator in the country? Gambling."
Greenberg admitted that Reno being a gaming city had "nothing to do with the outcome of this game. But think about the message we're sending. It's a business. They can put a tournament in a gaming city, yet we can't have a kid over to the house for dinner."
Greenberg was venting because he knew what other message was resonating Saturday night from Reno:
Long Beach, the most talented team in the Big West, won't be going to the NCAA Tournament.
NIT? Shumard and Big West Commissioner Dennis Farrell were hoping to pitch a Long Beach-Fresno State matchup to NIT officials, but Cotton said he'd just as soon pass.
"Who cares about the NIT?" Cotton said. "I'd rather not go. We were basically playing for the NCAAs or nothing."
A reasonable theory, as far as theories in Reno were going late Saturday night.