The Long Beach State men’s basketball team injected some March Madness into the Big West Tournament at Honda Center on Thursday night.
Hawaii led LBSU by as many as 18 points in the first half of their quarterfinal matchup, but the Beach used a full-court press to claw its way back into the game, and Jordan Roberts’ jumper with less than a second left in regulation gave his team an improbable 68-66 win.
“That wasn’t a text book win,” LBSU coach Dan Monson said. “That was a ‘gut check, we don’t want our season to end’ win. It’s one of those that you’ve seen in March when a team has some seniors and some guys that just aren’t accepting the outcome to be anything but advancing.”
With the game tied and 15 seconds left, LBSU called a timeout to draw up a final play.
“We wanted the ball in (Deishuan) Booker’s hands, and we were trying to spread the court and let him operate,” Monson said. “I told him not to settle.”
“Coming out of the timeout (Roberts) told me that his man was going to hedge pretty hard and to find him and he’ll knock down the shot,” Booker said. “And he did.”
Booker gave the ball to Roberts after a pick and roll at the wing, and after two hard dribbles he calmly knocked down the 15-foot jumper with .05 left on the clock.
“I had a feeling,” Roberts said. “All night they were playing me as a driver so I knew I was going to have some room to shoot the shot.”
Roberts scored a game-high 18 points to go with a team-high nine rebounds. Booker added 15 points, and extending his Big West record with a 53rd consecutive made free throw. Mason Riggins scored 12 points while grabbing seven rebounds, and Drew Cobb sparked the second half rally on defense. He also scored 11 points.
Hawaii was led by from Zigmars Ramio’s double-double with 14 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Long Beach Poly High alum Drew Buggs struggled with foul trouble, but still had a game-high five assists to go with seven points and two steals.
“We just didn’t get it done down the stretch.” Buggs said.
Hawaii opened the game on a 13-2 run with a variety of open looks, and took an 18 point lead.
“They were the aggressor and just dominated us for the first 10 minutes,” Monson said.
Roberts got his team going by taking advantage of a mismatch with his mid-range game. The sophomore scored six of the first nine points as LBSU cut into the lead. Buggs killed the Beach rally with a 3-pointer that beat the shot clock, and then Jack Purchase nailed a triple of his own to push the lead back to 30-15 at the eight minute timeout.
LBSU quickly got into its full-court press, and relentlessly attacked the basket to get to the free throw line at the other end. Cobb created a turnover and fast break layup to make it a six-point game in the final minute of the first half. However, Buggs reversed fortune again when he found Raimo for an open layup, and a 37-29 advantage at the break.
LBSU forced 15 turnovers on the night, and went 18/28 at the free throw line.
“It got a little crazy for us and they made their free throws,” Hawaii coach Eran Ganot said. “It happens sometimes. It’s not a lack of effort. Give credit to Long Beach and the way they battled after going down early. Heck of a win for them. We didn’t do a good job handling their press.”
Hawaii’s lead hung around 10 points until Temidayo Yussuf sparked a run in the paint. His presence led to consecutive layups for he and Booker. Twice they cut the lead to six points, but Hawaii’s 12th offensive rebound of the night led to a Purchase 3-pointer that sparked a run to push the lead back to double digits with about eight minutes left.
That’s when everything changed.
An And-1 layup from Riggins, an open 3-pointer from Bryan Alberts and a few forced turnovers by Cobb sparked a 11-0 run that cut the lead to one. Cobb’s 3-pointer in the far corner with less than four minutes left tied the game 61-61, had his free throws after a Hawaii turnover gave LBSU its first lead with three minutes to play.
After both teams missed shots at taking or building a lead in the final minutes, a free throw by Roberts gave the Beach a two-point lead for about six seconds until Buggs hit Raimo for an easy game-tying layup in transition with 22 seconds on the clock.
That’s all the time Booker and Roberts needed.
“I’ve said all along that this is a very good team until it gets frustrated or tired,” Monson said. “I’m so proud of the way they grew. Tonight they were both, and that’s the best game we’ve had mentally. A month or two ago this team never would’ve been able to pull that off.”
LBSU will try to extend its winning streak to seven games when it takes on UC Irvine in the 6:30 p.m. semifinal on Friday. The Beach is the only Big West team to beat the Anteaters this season.