“I don’t think you could script it much better.”
That’s the first thing Long Beach State men’s basketball coach Dan Monson said after his team edged UC Riverside in overtime 73-72 on Saturday at Walter Pyramid. And he’s right.
The victory clinched the first Big West Conference regular season title for LBSU since 2013, and seniors Colin Slater, Drew Cobb and Jordan Roberts all played great in their final home game.
“It’s paid off in the long run,” Roberts said. “I’ve been here for five years, though the bad times and the good. To be rewarded in the end, it feels surreal.”
Roberts scored 20 points, Slater had 12 points and four assists and Cobb played phenomenal defense. LBSU guard Joel Murray scored a game-high 26 points including a clutch 3-pointer in overtime to put the Beach in front. Freshman Jadon Jones drew a foul with less than a second to play in overtime, and his free throws clinched the victory.
“They impacted that game in so many ways and they’ve impacted our program in so many ways,” Monson said of his seniors. “None of them had to come back. They were all eligible to go anywhere in the country. They believed in the vision that we weren’t that far away (from our goals) so it’s very gratifying that they hung through so much and can taste a championship because they’ve been talking about it for years.”
LBSU (18-11, 12-3) will be the No. 1 seed at the Big West Conference Tournament in Las Vegas next week. The Beach has already clinched an NIT spot if they don’t win the conference tournament and reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012.
“We’ve got to cherish this moment and then tomorrow we’ve got a Big West tournament to lock into,” Roberts said. “We’re trying to go a long ways. We’re trying to make some noise in March.”
Monson said he’s very confident that despite not having a deep bench his team has what it takes to win three games in three nights next weekend.
“We’ve proven for two months that there’s nobody in this league we can’t beat if we play our way,” Monson said. “We’ve got to go in there with that vibe and swagger, but we’ve got to understand that if we don’t play our game any of them can beat us.”
UC Riverside (16-11, 9-6) looked poised to ruin the party in the first half during which it shot 65 percent from the field and led by as many as 10 points.
Quality looks in the midrange from Roberts and Murray got the Beach going again, and they cut the lead to 35-31 at halftime.
A pair of backdoor cut dunks by Romelle Mansel and Jones put LBSU back on top in the second half, but UCR guard Zyon Pullin used his team-high 24 points and game-high seven assists to keep the Highlanders in the game.
Slater hit a long game-tying jumper in the corner with less than a minute to play in regulation to tie the game. Both teams missed possible game-winning shots before it went to overtime.
Both teams held the lead in the extra period, and after Murray rolled in his 3-pointer with about 1:20 left on the clock, Dominick Pickett hit a 3-pointer of his own to put UCR up 72-71.
The last LBSU possession of the game was disjointed and the ball landed in the hands of Jones as the clock ran down. He drew a foul on a jump shot with less than a second remaining, and calmly made both free throws for the win.
LBSU celebrated on the court after the game with team pictures and a net cutting ceremony.
“We’ve had a great regular season and now it’s time to make it a special season,” Monson said.
LBSU will play it’s first Big West tournament game on Thursday.