Long Beach State coach Dan Monson helped turn Gonzaga into a national power more than a decade ago by challenging anyone, anywhere at any time.
He’s kept the same philosophy with the 49ers, although without the same spectacular results.
Casper Ware scored a career-high 28 points and Long Beach State raced by No. 9 Pittsburgh 86-76 on Wednesday night, the program’s first win over a top-10 team in nearly 20 years.
“It’s a big win but we expected to win this,” Ware said. “Everybody in the locker room knew we were going to win this game.”
Maybe because Monson told his players they would when practice started last month.
Long Beach State (2-0) has put together the toughest nonconference schedule in the country in each of the last two seasons, and this one is no different.
Wednesday night’s game was the start of a brutal stretch that includes trips to defending Mountain West champion San Diego State, No. 8 Louisville, No. 12 Kansas, No. 1 North Carolina along with a showdown in Hawaii against No. 13 Xavier three days before Christmas.
It’s how to make a name for yourself as a mid-major. Only Monson has grown tired of the act and he let his team know it.
“I told `em the first meeting of the year that playing this schedule is unacceptable,” he said. “It’s time for this team to stop playing the toughest schedule and start competing against the toughest schedule.”
So far, so very good.
Long Beach State became just the second non-Big East team to win at the Petersen Events Center and the first nonconference opponent to knock off the Panthers at home in November and December since the gym opened in 2002.
“We got beat every which way,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said.
James Ennis added 19 points and Larry Anderson had 12 points and seven assists for the 49ers (2-0), who relentlessly attacked the Panthers.
“All teams, they try to do a lot to stop us from running, but we were just too fast today,” Ware said. “We were clicking on offense and it was too fast (for them) to stop us.”
Ashton Gibbs led Pitt (2-1) with 20 points and Nasir Robinson added 19, but the Panthers simply couldn’t keep up with the 49ers.
“They wanted it more than us,” Robinson said. “They worked harder. They ran harder. They got to loose balls. They executed better than us. They outsmarted us.”
Mostly, they outplayed the Panthers.
Long Beach State took a nine-point halftime lead and never let up.
Pitt drew within six points on a few occasions but each time the 49ers answered to become the first non-Big East team to beat the Panthers at home since Bucknell in 2005.
The victory was Long Beach State’s first over a top-10 team since beating then-No. 1 Kansas on Jan. 25, 1993, when most of the current 49ers were in diapers.
This was no fluke, however.
Long Beach State never trailed after taking the lead less than 8 minutes in, attacking Pitt from the opening tip. If Ware wasn’t knocking down 3-pointers, he, Ennis and Anderson were splitting Pitt’s zone and finding open teammates.
The 49ers shot 59 percent from the floor, collected 24 assists on 32 baskets and turned it over just 10 times, beating the Panthers both outside and inside.
Long Beach State went out and played like it, outscoring Pitt 25-5 on the break and 48-31 in the paint, even slightly out-rebounding the bigger, stronger defending Big East regular season champions.
Dixon has preached patience while his team searches for a new identity behind Gibbs, the Big East preseason player of the year.
The Panthers looked lethargic at times in a win over Rider on Sunday. Dixon stressed the need to get more tenacious on defense, a hallmark of the program since he replaced Ben Howland in 2003.
There’s still plenty to work on. Long Beach State wasn’t intimidated by the long cross-country trip, the late tipoff or one of the country’s toughest places to play.
Pitt has been practically unbeatable at “the Pete” against nonconference foes. Most of the wins have been laughers. When asked to answer the bell for the first time this season, the Panthers responded too late.
Pitt’s best chance to get back in it came on back-to-back 3-pointers by Travon Woodall and Gibbs that pulled the Panthers to 62-56. The 49ers responded with a pull-up from Edis Dervisevic and a steal and dunk by Ennis, who flexed after flushing it to push the lead back to 10.
The Panthers crept within six twice more but couldn’t get key stops.
“We knew they were very good and we wanted to play someone very good,” Dixon said. “They’re an experienced team. I had anticipated us being a much better team this time and, obviously, we’re not where I’d like us to be.”
The 49ers, by contrast, are right on schedule.
Confidence grew with each basket and by the time the horn sounded all Pitt could do is trudge off the floor as the shouts of about two dozen Long Beach State supporters echoed throughout the quiet arena.