LAS VEGAS — Redshirt junior guard Ron Freeman channeled his inner mamba mentality and put in a leaning layup as the clock expired and the Long Beach State men’s basketball team upset the Iona Gaels in the first game of the MGM Resorts Main Event tournament Monday.
Freeman’s first thought was to immediately score in the clutch with 4.7 seconds left in the game, just like his favorite player of all-time, Kobe Bryant.
“Just had to get a bucket, I heard Book [Deishuan Booker] behind me for the kick-out three but I was just attacking the whole game,” Freeman said. “Their defense was soft in the paint so I just made the decision to go get us a win.”
In the cold, small Cox Pavilion, Long Beach (2-3) got off to a slow start against Iona College, but ended the game with a 86-85 victory. Both teams picked up the intensity in the second half, with the game coming down to the final seconds.
After both teams got off to poor shooting starts and multiple travel calls, the first half was a back and forth affair. Senior center Temidayo Yussuf paved the way for Long Beach in the first half, muscling in 12 points and being a vocal leader on the defensive end. Yussuf ended the game with 18 points and three rebounds.
“I felt real confident,” Yussuf said. “Everybody has been just trying to remind me what type of player I am, so I just took it onto the court and tried to play my hardest.”
In the second half, the 49ers came out of the locker room with a sense of urgency. Freeman and senior guard Deishuan Booker got to the rim with ease, cutting and dribbling their way through the Gaels defense. With 12 minutes left in the game, a three pointer from redshirt senior guard Bryan Alberts gave Long Beach a 10 point lead.
From there, it seemed the 49ers would break open a lead and take the game. Iona had other plans. The Gaels stormed their way back and made it a close contest down the stretch. With 5:50 left to play, Iona cut the Long Beach lead down to one point. From that point on, the 49ers struggled with an intense full-court press defense.
Turnovers down the stretch turned the flow of the game into a fast-paced ending. With 4.7 seconds left in the game, Iona guard Asante Gist made an off-balanced layup over Yussuf to put the Gaels up 85-84. Senior forward KJ Byers immediately inbounded the ball to Freeman who sprinted the length of the floor and finished a gliding layup over two defenders.
“I told them we’re not calling timeout,” head coach Dan Monson said. “It was supposed to go to Book with screens on the way from our four and five, but [Iona] knocked that down, Ron got two screens on his way and made a great play.”
Long Beach advances to the middleweight bracket championship game of the MGM Resorts Main Event tournament 2 p.m Wednesday and will take on Utah Valley.
Watch our video coverage of the game here:
VIDEO | Kat Schuster and Kevin Colindres