Josh Sharma broke his career high for rebounds in the first half, and blew past his scoring high in the second. When the final buzzer rang, he had 23 points and 18 rebounds in a game he didn’t start.
“I was mad at him,” said Coach Jerod Haase. He brought Sharma off the pine in hopes he would bring consistent energy. “After this, I might not play him at all next game so he’ll go for 30 and 20.”
Long Beach State shocked Stanford a season ago. This Stanford team looks very different from that one, with significant additions and departures. Still, the Cardinal did not want a repeat. “We had to take care of this game, especially on our home court,” said Sharma.
Unlike recent games, Stanford’s offense showed some life in the first half. The Cardinal knocked down 5 threes, and converted 10 Long Beach turnovers into 14 points. They held an 11-3 advantage on the offensive glass, with 7 from Josh Sharma alone. Yet they couldn’t shake miscues, so they couldn’t shake the 49ers. They committed 9 turnovers in the first frame, and went just 4-13 from the stripe.
KZ Okpala picked up two early fouls and went to the bench. The 49ers took advantage of his absence, building a 19-14 lead and prompting Jerod Haase to reinsert his star. The decision paid off, as Okpala sparked a 7-0 run and avoided a third personal.
With 8 seconds remaining in the half, Stanford held a 37-34 lead and earned 4 free throws thanks to personal and technical fouls on Long Beach. Isaac White stepped up and missed a pair, Daejon Davis did the same, and Kodye Pugh was caught going over the back of a 49er. Long Beach State paid it off with 2 makes on the other end, completing a 6 point swing and sending it to half a 37-36 game.
Stanford cleaned up their offense in the second half, as Daejon Davis took control. The sophomore point guard was spectacular, gliding to the rim, stealing haphazard 49er passes, and dishing out dimes. He was 5-5 for from the field and added highlight assists. On a game-changing 13-1 Stanford run, he was responsible for all but 2 points. The Cardinal turned it over just twice after the break.
Just when it seemed Stanford had everything in control, they were hit with a scary moment. With 6 minutes to go in the game, Daejon Davis drove to the basket and appeared to step on a defender’s foot. He crumpled into a heap on the floor with what was evidently an ankle injury. Davis did not return to the game, and Coach Haase did not have any further updates on his status.
The Cardinal maintained a 12 point lead with just 3 minutes remaining, but their free throw woes nearly came back to bite them. At one point, Stanford players not named Josh Sharma were just 1-13 from the stripe. Long Beach State used missed front ends and hot shooting to claw back into the contest, getting it as close as 2 in the final minute.
“Our defensive effort was not there,” said Haase. The coach was upset by the high second half assist total (13) of the 49ers, and the amount of good three point looks they found against both man and zone looks.
Isaac White split a pair of foul shots with 18 seconds to go. LBSU came down the court down just 3 and with hopes of forcing overtime. Their contested look rimmed out, Stanford grabbed the rebound, and KZ Okpala scored a breakaway jam. Long Beach head coach Dan Monson was clearly upset about something, as he charged out to center court and belligerently screamed at anyone who would listen. He was tossed from the game, and Okpala made the two technical shots.
KZ Okpala had another strong game, scoring 20 points despite foul trouble limiting him to 24 minutes. Davis had 17 points on 8-9 shooting, as well as 5 assists, before exiting the contest. Jaiden Delaire chipped in 10 points and 4 rebounds, all in the second half. Cormac Ryan missed his third consecutive game with an ankle injury, but was not wearing a boot.
Long Beach State was paced by the 22 of Gonzaga transfer Bryan Alberts on 6-13 from behind the arc. Deishaun Booker added 20.
Stanford will now head into Pac-12 play. The conference is down across the board this year, and appears to very much be up for grabs. “I think we’re a hidden gem,” said Haase, about Stanford’s conference expectations. They open with a trip to UCLA and USC next week.