Anaheim, Calif. - Long Beach State went toe-to-toe in with the top seed UC Irvine in a game that never saw a double-digit lead, but the Beach ultimately came up just short in the Big West Tournament semifinals, falling 62-57.
Long Beach State (15-19) got good performances from their second-team All-Big West selections on Friday night. Temidayo Yussuf finished the year with his second double-double of the season, scoring 10 points with career highs in both rebounds (15) and assists (5), and Justin Bibbins led the Beach in scoring with 15 points while serving as the primary defender on Big West Player of the Year Luke Nelson of UC Irvine (21-13).
"All season long, UC Irvine has been the best defensive team in the league, and they defended us well tonight," said head coach Dan Monson. "We battled, but they were better than us. We just came up short."
Even in a game with 11 lead changes, the most significant two came in the second five minutes of the second half. Trailing 42-38 with 13:21 remaining, a 3-pointer from Bibbins kickstarted an 8-0 run for the Beach, capped by a layup from Barry Ogalue to give Long Beach State its largest lead of the game.
Nelson came up with the answer for UC Irvine, hitting a 3-pointer and a jumper in quick succession, followed by a steal for a fast break layup that completed a 7-0 swing and put the Anteaters up for good with 7:39 to go.
"I always tell our guys that any three-minute segment of a game can end your season once you get into the postseason, and while that one didn't end our season since we had other opportunities after that, it certainly changed the momentum of the game," noted Monson.
Bibbins hit a 3-pointer to pull the Beach within two at 51-49, but Nelson answered with a bucket on the next possession as the two continued to battle, and the Bibbins had the Beach back within four with the ball after a pair of free throws to give Long Beach State another opportunity. The 49ers were unable to convert however, and UCI held on to advance to the finals.
Finishing the tournament 13-for-13 from the free throw line, Bibbins closed the season by making 25 straight free throws, and also passed Lucious Harris for ninth place in LBSU history in career assists, as he ends his junior year with 343.
Long Beach State closed the year with a 72.4 percent average on the year as a team from the free throw line, the third-best in school history. Nearly the entire roster is eligible to return for 2017-18, including all four All-Big West selections from this season in Bibbins, Yussuf, Roschon Prince and Evan Payne along with preseason All-Big West selection Gabe Levin, who the 49ers lost for the year after an injury before the start of conference play.
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