With 2.4 seconds left in the game, senior forward KJ Byers heaved a half court shot to win the game, but missed high and wide right off the backboard. Long Beach State men’s basketball fell to UC Irvine 82-80 Saturday night in front of a rowdy crowd of 2,344.
“If anybody was gonna take a half court shot, it’s KJ,” head coach Dan Monson said. “For some reason he practices it every day and he makes a lot of them.”
Monson had a timeout to call on the final play, but a miscommunication between him and the players resulted in the half court shot instead of running a set play.
“If it was under three [seconds] we were gonna call a timeout,” Monson said. “That’s not all on the kids, I can call that on the sideline and I thought we were under an understanding [to call a timeout] and all of a sudden they took [the ball] out.”
Despite the five-game losing streak, Long Beach remains confident because of the team’s overall effort and energy throughout its last few games.
“Guys are hungry, guys are competing, guys want to win so I’m comfortable with where we’re headed,” Booker said.
Irvine was led with a balanced offensive attack as seven players scored seven or more points. Junior guard Evan Leonard led the Anteaters with 18 points and four assists.
In the first half, Long Beach came out aggressive on both ends of the floor. The 49ers were attacking the paint on offense and putting pressure on the Anteaters on the defensive side. Long Beach snagged three steals from UCI within the first five minutes of the game. Byers provided the energy for the 49ers, putting up nine points, five rebounds, two blocks and two steals at the halftime break. Booker led all scorers with 11 points and three assists at the half. Irvine led 38-35 at halftime.
The second half was a back-and-forth barrage from both teams. Long Beach hit tough shots to keep itself in the game, but it wasn’t enough. Booker had the Walter Pyramid crowd up off their feet throughout the last five minutes, doing all he could offensively to keep Long Beach afloat.
The senior guard hit everything from a stepback three-pointer to contested layups down the stretch. Sophomore guard Edon Maxhuni hit a fadeaway three-pointer in the corner to put Long Beach up 79-78 with under one minute to play. With the game tied at 80, Irvine forward Tommy Rutherford scored a layup in the paint to give the Anteaters the 82-80 win.
“I really was proud of their effort, their attitude,” Monson said. “We came up just short today against a really good team. Our fight was there, I thought we really stayed together well.”
Next up for Long Beach is a 7 p.m. Thursday home matchup against Hawai’i at the Walter Pyramid. The Rainbow Warriors are currently 4-2 in Big West play.