MOSCOW, Idaho – His dark checkered tie slightly askew, Dan Monson sat hunched over in the interview room Saturday night with jumbled emotions.
Sure, he was thrilled his Long Beach State team pulled out a 77-66 win over the University of Idaho. But UI is also his alma mater – and the spot where his dad, Don, bagged 100 wins in five years as men’s basketball coach.
“As far as the game goes, it feels good now,” Monson said. “But I’m a Vandal. I root for the Vandals every game. … So you don’t enjoy that part of it.”
Monson returned to Moscow as coach for the first time since his first season at Gonzaga in January 1998. He led the Zags to the Elite Eight the following year before moving on to Minnesota.
Now in his third season at LBSU, Monson took a leisurely jog Saturday morning through the Idaho campus, returning to his old dorm and running down Greek Row.
Before the game, he reminisced with Phil Hopson and Brian Kellerman, two ex-Vandals who were coached by his father.
“Everybody (was) kidding Brian because I gave him tickets today,” Monson said. “I would be disappointed if he didn’t cheer for Idaho. That’s who we are. We’re Vandals. … The only people I give a pass to is my parents because blood’s got to be thicker than water.”
The ESPNU BracketBuster matchup made for a mostly enjoyable Monson reunion, but it was agonizing for the 1,554 fans at Cowan Spectrum.
Bedeviled by the 49ers’ perimeter quickness and pressure defense, the Vandals shot just 16.7 percent (3 of 18) from 3-point range. Their 15 turnovers led to 21 points for the Big West Conference school.
Ten of Idaho’s turnovers came in the first half, when Long Beach (13-14) raced out to a 16-point cushion.
“They out-hustled us, they out-physicaled us. They beat us in every aspect of the game,” UI coach Don Verlin said.
Every time Idaho (13-13) looked ready to mount a second-half rally, LBSU mustered a response. T.J. Robison was usually involved.
The 6-foot-8 sophomore poured in 22 points with 15 rebounds. Speedy guard Casper Ware added 20 points thanks to 10-of-10 shooting from the foul line.
Kyle Barone’s hook shot in the post vaulted UI to a 16-14 lead with 9:10 left in the first half. But Long Beach eventually settled into a nice rhythm, and the Vandals’ midseason problems started to resurface.
They turned it over six times in the next five minutes, helping the 49ers close out the half on a 21-5 run.