Jadon Jones had one thing to say in the Long Beach State men’s basketball huddle before the final 1.3 of the Big West Conference Tournament semifinals on Friday.
“If I get it, it’s going in.”
With the game tied, LBSU drew up a play with a few screens for shooters, and the best ones were set by Jones and Colin Slater. Jones popped open on the wing and drained the buzzer-beating game-winning 3-pointer to lift the Beach over UC Santa Barbara 67-64.
“We’ve officially entered March Madness tonight as a program for the first time in too many years,” LBSU coach Dan Monson said. “It couldn’t have happened to a better group. We led for 3:34 seconds and if it were 3:33 we would’ve lost.”
LBSU will face the winner of Hawaii and Cal State Fullerton in the Big West Conference championship game on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. back at Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nevada. The Beach is trying to reach its first NCAA Tournament since 2012 with a win tomorrow.
“I can’t say there’s a season I’ve enjoyed more than this one,” Monson said. “This one I’m cherishing because I know how hard this is.”
Jones hadn’t taken a shot for the entire second half before his game-winner. He and Slater, who used his first make of the game last week to beat UC Davis in the waning seconds, both said that continued confidence comes from the bench.
“It’s a last second shot and coach puts me out there because he believes in me,” Jones said. “I’m surrounded by people who have never said, ‘Don’t shoot that.’ They always have my back. I’m blessed to have my teammates and these coaches. I appreciate all the opportunities I’ve been given.”
“From Monson on down the line, including everyone who is in sweatsuits, if any of us take a shot we don’t feel like we’re going to disappoint anyone,” Slater added. “So it’s the belief in your teammates and the effort from them to get you open. They put that positive energy into your shot, and then it’s real easy and you just shoot it with confidence.”
Slater scored a team-high 30 points, 22 of which came after halftime, while also dishing out three assists. Freshman Aboubacar Traore had 12 points and nine rebounds. Jones finished with nine points, seven rebounds and three steals.
The first half started with over two scoreless minutes that set the tone for a game that had multiple long stretches without a basket. Ajare Sanni’s 3-pointer at 17:30 put points on the board for UCSB as it took an early lead.
Slater’s acrobatic finish off the glass and Jones’ And-1 3-pointer tied the game at 7-7.
UCSB answered that with a surgical 12-0 run that put the Gouaches up 19-10 with about 10 minutes to play in the half. Miles Norris had a big 3-pointer and a monstrous dunk during the run. Norris and Sanni both had a team-high 15 points.
The lead hung around 10 points for the rest of the half, but good defense from the Beach, a Traore layup and Jones free throws cut the deficit to 37-32 at halftime.
UCSB had 13 assists in the first half while making six of its 13 3-point attempts.
The second half started with some impressive leadership from Slater, who is the Big West Player of the Year, as he made three buckets in the first three minutes to give LBSU a 38-37 lead.
Sanni also put his team on his back for stretches of the second half, and he got UCSB back in front 45-38 with about 15 minutes to play.
Slater responded once again and sparked a 10-2 run that ended up tying the game 58-58 with about six minutes to play.
“I knew that in the first half they were dropping and not walling up,” Slater said. “So I knew that in the second half I was going to put that to the test to see if they could really stick with that the whole game.”
Sanni made a clutch runner in the lane with about 1:30 left to play that put UCSB up 64-60.
Slater drew a foul at the other end and his free throws cut the lead to two with about a minute left. After a UCSB miss at the other end, LBSU pushed the ball up quickly and Drew Cobb fed Traore for an easy finish and a tie game 64-64.
Both teams missed chances to take a lead before LBSU got the ball back with about 10 seconds left, and inexplicably called a timeout with a second left on the clock.
Cobb took the ball out near half court and Jones came across the top of the key to catch and release before the buzzer.
UCSB only made one of its eight 3-point attempts in the second half.
“These guys are resilient and it couldn’t have been a harder win,” Monson said. “Both teams left everything out there. I really respect (UCSB) and I’m proud of my guys.”