Long Beach State men’s basketball used a 23-point swing and overtime to beat last-place Cal Poly on Thursday night at Walter Pyramid. The 80-73 win qualifies LBSU (11-20, 6-9) for its 16th consecutive trip to the Big West Conference tournament.
“Well that was exhausting,” LBSU coach Dan Monson said. “The same team that started the second half came back and really fought in overtime.”
Cal Poly had a 38-24 lead after a sleepy first half, but senior Jordan Griffin sparked the game-changing 26-3 run to start the second half. Griffin, the only senior on the LBSU roster, scored all 18 of his career-high points in the second half of his last home game.
“I just felt a different energy tonight,” Griffin said. “I was locked in more than ever. Mentally I was always in the game, and it carried over. In that first half I missed a couple shots, but it didn’t bother me. I just kept shooting and it fell.”
After the Mustangs bounced back and forced overtime with a last-second shot, Josh Morgan, Drew Cobb and Michael Carter III all played extremely well in overtime to take the victory going away.
“What character and fight they had,” Monson said of his team in overtime. “You can’t win a game like that on your own, and they stayed together.”
A loss to Cal Poly (7-22, 4-11) would’ve forced LBSU to beat Cal State Fullerton on Saturday, and also get some help elsewhere, in order to reach the conference tournament.
“Tournaments for most teams are three games,” Monson said. “We need to win five games. We’re in the tournament now, but for us to win it we really have to go play well on Saturday and have some momentum going in there as the highest seed possible.”
Griffin’s 18 points were a team-high and he also contributed five rebounds and two steals. Morgan had a huge second half and finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks. Cobb scored 13 points, while Chance Hunter and Michael Carter III each scored 11 points.
LBSU and Cal Poly combined to miss their first 11 shots of the game. It took LBSU 4:45 to make a field goal when Jordan Roberts fed Morgan in the lane.
In stark contrast, Cal Poly made five of its first seven shots from 3-point range to build an 18-point lead. Michael Cater III made LBSU’s second 3-pointer with about a minute left to cut Cal Poly’s halftime lead to 38-24.
“They just got their composure back at halftime,” Monson said. “We didn’t talk about one X or O at halftime. We didn’t put one thing on the board or make any adjustment. We said, ‘Just do what you’re supposed to do, and we’re fine’.”
The Beach looked like a different team in the second half as Morgan led the charge on the defensive end. The freshman had a pair of blocks that set up a And-1 3-pointer from Griffin as LBSU opened the half on a 12-0 run.
Griffin hit another 3-pointer two minutes later to cut the lead to 40-37. The senior drilled a jumper on the next possession, and then Cobb tied the game for the first time 41-41.
“Making buckets is what he does,” Monson said of Griffin. “We needed every one of them today, and he delivered.”
After a Griffin steal at the other end, sophomore Chance Hunter gave LBSU its first lead with an And-1 jumper on the baseline. The Beach extended its lead on Cobb’s steal and layup. Another block from Morgan put LBSU in transition and Cobb found Romelle Mansel for an alley-oop that brought a huge roar from the 1,641 at Walter Pyramid and put the Beach up by nine.
All of that was part of the 26-3 LBSU run to open the second half.
LBSU pushed its lead to double digits by the under-12 minute media timeout, and the Beach outscored Cal Poly 33-8 in the first 12 minutes of the second half.
Guard Malek Harwell and Cal Poly got back into the game at the free throw line, and cut the LBSU lead to 59-55 with about four minutes to play. Junior Ballard also came alive late and scored a game-high 25 points.
There was a stretch of over five minutes where neither team made a field goal, but Carter snapped that streak with an And-1 layup that put LBSU up 62-56 with three minutes left in regulation.
Ballard answered with a 3-pointer to make it a one-possession game, then Job Alexander found forward Alimamy Korma in the key for an easy layup that cut LBSU’s lead to 62-61 with 1:27 on the clock.
The Mustangs got a stop with 16.5 left trailing 64-61. After a timeout, Ballard dribbled the clock down at the top of the key and rolled home a game-tying 3-pointer with 00.7 left in regulation.
LBSU sophomore Chance Hunter and Cobb went to the bucket and scored on the first three possessions of overtime to quickly retake momentum. Monson said those plays opened up because Cal Poly had rolled its defense towards Griffin on the perimeter.
“This career for him has been one of sacrifice,” Monson said of Griffin. “He’s been the ultimate teammate for four years. For him to be able to go out this way in a game where we had guys not playing and we needed offense, he really delivered. I couldn’t think of a better way to have his last game in here.”
Carter found Morgan at the rim to make it 74-70 with 1:46 left. Morgan also forced back-to-back misses on the defensive end, and Carter’s free throws clinched the victory. Cobb also fed Morgan for a celebratory alley-oop dunk in the final seconds. LBSU was 5-for-6 from the field in overtime, and 6-for-6 from the free throw line. The Beach was 27-for-31 from the line in the game.
LBSU visits CSUF at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in the regular season finale.