Long Beach State senior guard Colin Slater had missed all 12 of his shots from the field when he caught the inbounds pass with 7.9 seconds left in regulation of a tied game.
“I knew (LBSU coach Dan Monson) wasn’t going to call a timeout so I was pushing it with a good pace,” Slater said. “I was kind of reading what they were doing. They were packing it in and sagged off pretty far and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna let this one rock.’”
Slater dribbled to the elbow in front of the LBSU bench and buried the game-winning 3-pointer to give the Beach a 68-65 victory over UC Davis at Walter Pyramid that sent the home crowd into a frenzy.
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“I was standing right there and I was like, ‘That’s in’ because he was in the moment and in rhythm,” Monson said. “I didn’t call a timeout because I just feel like with a broken play and not letting them set their defense… We were trying to get the ball to (Joel Murray) and they denied it and (Jordan Roberts) did a great job of getting enough of (Slater’s) guy to get him open.”
“It felt good off the hand,” Slater said with a smile after the game.
The victory clinches LBSU (17-11, 11-3) the top seed in the upcoming Big West Conference Tournament in Las Vegas, and the conference’s automatic bid into the NIT. A win on Saturday in the regular season finale will give LBSU its first outright conference title since 2013.
“This team isn’t winning because we’re out-talenting teams, we’re winning because we’re more connected than any team I’ve had in 10 years,” Monson said. “It shows in games like today when things aren’t going well. They just keep playing.”
The Beach started the game 2-for-18 from 3-point range, but finished 10-for-33 from behind the arc. Freshman Jadon Jones scored a game-high 21 points thanks to six 3-pointers. Five of them came after halftime.
Aboubacar Traore had a double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds while chipping in some key plays down the stretch including a fantastic tip-dunk in the final minutes. It is his seventh double-double of the season and he also had four assists.
Seniors Drew Cobb and Jordan Roberts also played important roles. Cobb came off the bench to make both of his shots from 3-point range in the heart of the second half. Roberts returned from injury to score 12 points.
“We’re sure happy to have him back today, he made a huge difference in there,” Monson said of Roberts. “He has been our guy who sacrificed the most for this season. He’s been here for five years and never been on a team that won a championship so I’m really excited for these seniors.”
His appearance on Thursday is a school record 133rd game for Roberts.
“Sitting and watching on the sidelines can be tough mentally, but I didn’t want to force myself,” Roberts said. “I wanted to listen to my body, and today it was telling me to go out there and try to amp it up and go as hard as I can so that’s what I did.”
The final play of the game was set up when UC Davis got fouled shooting a 3-pointer and the resulting free throws tied the game. Slater made sure there wasn’t overtime.
“As a kid in the driveway you count down 5, 4, 3, 2 in that moment… but honestly, it’s more gratifying that we’re one step closer to our goal,” Slater said.
Monson, Roberts and Slater all said the boisterous home crowd, especially the student section, was key to the victory.
“We love LB Nation so much,” Slater said. “It means a lot to us because we play hard and it’s gratifying to see them enjoy us playing hard.”
“It’s amped up this year so it’s honestly a blessing to have this our senior year,” Roberts added.
“The numbers aren’t the story, it’s the involvement,” said Monson. “We’ve had better attendance but the people who are coming here are into it.”
LBSU finishes the regular season on Saturday against UC Riverside. The game will be preceded by a Senior Night ceremony to recognize Joe Hampton, Drew Cobb, Colin Slater and Jordan Roberts in their final home game at Walter Pyramid.