Long Beach State upsets UC Irvine in Big West semifinals
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — UC Irvine beat Long Beach State the first two times the teams met this season.
When it counted most, though, the 49ers found a way to come out on top.
Justin Bibbins scored 17 points, Nick Faust added 15, and third-seeded Long Beach State upset the No. 2-seed Anteaters 77-72 in the Big West Conference Tournament semifinals Friday night.
The 49ers (20-13) will face top-seeded Hawaii (26-5) in the championship game Saturday.
“We’ll trade this one for those two,” Long Beach State coach Dan Monson said with a smile. “We said it yesterday. It didn’t matter they beat us twice.”
A.J. Spencer scored 13 points and Travis Hammonds had 11 to help the 49ers hold off a late charge from the defending conference tournament champion Anteaters (25-9).
Long Beach State surrendered a 13-point second half lead, but went back on top when Faust hit a 3 with 6:07 left and led rest of the way.
UC Irvine’s regular-season wins over the 49ers included 90-67 rout when the teams last met Feb. 24, but the Anteaters couldn’t replicate that success. Now they have to hope for an unlikely at-large bid to their second straight NCAA Tournament.
“Whatever tournament we’re invited to, we’ll play in,” UC Irvine coach Russell Turner said. “The young men deserve it.”
Jaron Martin scored 21 points and 7-foot-6 center Mamadou Ndiaye had 16 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots to lead the Anteaters.
Long Beach State led 39-30 at halftime and extended it to 45-32 before UCI slowly crawled back into it. After minutes of back-and-forth, the Anteaters finally broke through with a 20-9 run that gave them a 62-61 lead with 6:48 to go. Martin scored 11 points - including three 3-pointers - to lead the spurt and Mike Best scored the go-ahead layup off a no-look pass from Ndiaye in the paint.
It didn’t last for long. Faust put Long Beach State back in front with a 3-pointer on the next possession, and back-to-back jumpers by Spencer and Hammonds made it 70-64 49ers with 3:53 remaining.
“I just think we were really active,” Bibbins said. “We got some big shots for us and got the big rebounds and made all the big plays we needed to.”
A series of free throws cut UCI’s deficit to 70-68 with two minutes left, but it couldn’t get any closer. Luke Nelson missed a potential go-ahead 3 with 1:48 to go and, after a 49ers free throw, Alex Young missed a 3-pointer to tie with 1:07 left.
Faust made them pay for the missed opportunities, hitting a jumper from the right wing with 38 seconds left to make it 73-68 Long Beach State, and the 49ers sunk four of their final six free throws to ice it.
“Down the stretch we just didn’t get enough stops or execute,” UCI’s Martin said. “I felt like we had a chance, we just didn’t do it.”
Long Beach State had 24 free throw attempts in the first half to UC Irvine’s nine. The final result was a 34-26 edge for the 49ers, but Turner was not happy about the first half discrepancy.
“There was some frustration in the locker room at halftime with how many foul calls that went against us,” Turner said. “It was surprising. I don’t know how to explain it.”
Long Beach State is getting hot at the right time. The 49ers have won 11 of 12 going into the Big West final, including two victories over their championship opponent Hawaii.
“The kids just kept fighting,” Monson said. “They showed that tonight, the fight they have in them.”
UC Irvine: The Anteaters shot 38.5 percent (25 of 65) from the field, including 6 of 17 from 3-point range.Ndiaye was 6 for 9 from the field and also had three assists.UC Irvine was making its fifth consecutive Big West semifinals appearance
Long Beach State: The 49ers made 28 of 34 free throw attempts..Roschon Prince and Gabe Levin added 10 points each to give LBSU six players in double figures..They are headed to their first conference title game since 2012. They are 5-6 all-time in Big West championship games.
UC Irvine: Awaits its post-season matchup
Long Beach State: Faces Hawaii in the Big West championship game Saturday