IRVINE — Long Beach entered the Big West tournament as the seventh-seed, but the team wasn’t going to let that affect their energy after losing in the final seconds by a heart-wrenching buzzer beater Saturday against Fullerton.
The rematch went a little differently down the stretch this time for the 49ers as they slowly milked the clock, carefully dissecting the defense and not forcing any action leading to turnovers for the squad.
Late-game execution has been an issue for Long Beach, but freshman guard Justina King was able to keep her cool while piloting the offense to 55 percent shooting in the fourth quarter, leading to a 60-54 victory.
“We’ve had a tendency all year where teams go on runs or we’re not scoring the ball,” Long Beach head coach Jeff Cammon said. “I thought tonight we competed for 40 minutes.”
The first quarter was a slugfest as both teams came out working hard to secure defensive rebounds and control the tempo of the game.
Fullerton worked the ball inside the paint well, with senior center Daeja Smith leading the charge, bullying her way to easy finishes that led to and-1 opportunities. Fortunately for the 49ers, the Titans were only able to convert 4-of-9 of their free throws for the quarter.
“They hit shots when they needed to … we missed too many free throws and paint shots to win a close game like this,” Fullerton head coach Jeff Harada said.
Long Beach began to find its rhythm in the second quarter with sophomore guard Shanaijah Davison attacking in transition, showing off her nifty handles to shake free from the Titan defenders as she finished with a game-high 21 points, along with five rebounds and two steals.
Inserting Kianna Hamilton-Fisher into the game off the bench payed big dividends for the 49ers as she finished the first half perfect from the field, hitting all four shots for 10 points, including a few tough finishes in traffic along with a huge momentum-swinging three pointer for the Beach.
“Just keeping the energy up is the main goal,” Hamilton-Fisher said.
Hamilton-Fisher’s hard work was infectious as it surged throughout the rest of the team, with the 49ers sprinting down the floor in transition and flying to the ground to tie up loose-balls, ending the first half with a score of 25-24 with Fullerton barely clinging to its lead.
After two quarters, sharpshooting junior forward Naomi Hunt finally found her groove, burying a three pointer to start the third quarter, putting the lead in the hands of the 49ers for the first time of the night.
“Fullerton out scrapped us in the first half but our kids responded,”Cammon said. “I thought we did a lot better tonight executing down the stretch.”
Hunt continued to pile on the points as she finished with 15 for the game, consistently showing off her flawless footwork to get easy floaters and turn-around jumpers in the mid-range.
Even with Fullerton gobbling up offensive rebounds at-will thanks to the size inside of Smith, the 49ers kept battling back with a barrage of three pointers, highlighted by Davison nailing one with a defender right in her face in front of her hyped-up teammates.
By limiting Smith to 5-of-11 shooting for the night, the 49ers were able to pull away with their stingy perimeter defense to end the game with their eyes set towards their next obstacle.
“Our kids did a great job … We really bothered them and forced them into some tough shots,”Cammon said.
Next up for Long Beach is a 6 p.m. Wednesday matchup against UC Riverside at the Bren Events Center in Irvine.