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Men’s Basketball Goes Dancing

Aaron NixonMarch Madness. NCAA post-season play. The Big Dance. Whatever you want to call it, Long Beach State men’s basketball team was there.

A successful 2006-07 regular season continued with the 49ers winning the 2007 Big West Conference (BWC) championship tournament and earning an automatic bid to the NCAA post-season tournament, its first appearance since 1995.

In the first round of the NCAA South Bracket, Long Beach State received a No. 12 seed and played No. 5 Tennessee in Columbus, Ohio, on March 16. The 49ers were defeated by a score of 121-86.

At the Big West Tournament, senior Aaron Nixon, the tournament’s most valuable player, scored 29 points and senior Kejuan Johnson added 24 to lead Long Beach State to a 94-83 championship win over Cal Poly San Luis Obispo at the Anaheim Convention Center on March 10. Long Beach State, which trailed 35-30 at halftime, came out of the intermission with a 17-6 run on its way to scoring a season-high 64 points in the second half.

Nixon also earned BWC Player of the Year honors after leading the 49ers to a 22-7 regular season mark, including a conference-best 12-2 mark to capture the regular-season title. Through BWC tournament play, he was the team’s leading scorer with an 18.6 points per game average, while averaging 20.4 in the 14 conference games. He scored in double figures in 29 of 31 games and was named the Big West Player of the Week four times. His 77 made three-pointers ranks No. 3 on the 49er single season list and he has four games with 30 or more points in his Long Beach career, including a career-high 35 points against UC Santa Barbara in January.

Nixon became the 16th player in Long Beach State history to hit 1,000 career points and had 1,004 points heading into the NCAA Tournament.

Johnson also was a first team all-league selection, averaging 15.4 points per game overall and 18.1 points in league play. Two other 49ers players earned all-conference accolades—senior Kevin Houston named second team and senior Sterling Byrd an honorable mention choice.

Head Coach Larry Reynolds, in his fifth season at Long Beach State, led the 49ers to their first Big West regular season championship since 1996. He was the first Long Beach State men’s basketball coach to be named as the league’s Coach of the Year since the award’s inception in 1978.

The 24 wins this season ties for third best all-time in school-history and the 24-7 mark is the best since the 1999-00 team went 24-6.

– Shayne Schroeder