ANAHEIM — Since the halfway point of conference play, Jordan Roberts has looked like a different player offensively. Roberts’ aggression to score the ball continued into the Big West conference tournament as he netted a game-winning jump shot with less than a second left to send Long Beach to the semifinal round with a 68-66 win over Hawai’i Thursday night. The win was head coach Dan Monson’s 200th career win at Long Beach.
“J-Rob [Jordan Roberts] had a head of steam and made a great shot, it wasn’t drawn up perfectly but we were trying to space the court,” Monson said.
Roberts scored 18 points and added nine rebounds, while senior point guard Deishuan Booker added 15 points and seven rebounds.
“Considering all of the seniors that we have, I didn’t want their season to end like this so I just tried to come in and be as aggressive as I can be,” Roberts said.
Long Beach got off to a cold start in the first half, trailing 11-2. Besides missing consecutive shots to begin the game, the 49ers simply didn’t get good shot looks. Roberts scored a quick six points on six shots, but many were forced.
After a lackluster 13 minutes in the first half, the 49ers began applying pressure on the defensive end with a full-court press and half court trap defense that ended up being the decisive factor in the game. Long Beach clearly disrupted Hawaii’s offensive rhythm with the press, cutting an 18 point lead down to eight points at halftime, trailing 37-29.
“It was a gut-check, we-don’t-want-our-season-to-end win,” Monson said. “That’s the most we’ve pressed in any game this year. Our guys just kept battling.”
At the break, the 49ers had just one assist and shot a combined 33 percent from the floor. Booker and Roberts led the team in scoring with seven points each. Booker also made five free throws, passing up Chris Clemons of Campbell for most free throws made in the nation with 245 total after the win.
Long Beach came out with much of the same energy in the second half, immediately pressing on defense and attacking the basket on offense. Despite the energy, the 49ers couldn’t force turnovers or missed shots until six minutes were left in the game. After a three pointer from redshirt senior guard Bryan Alberts and a steal and layup from sophomore guard Drew Cobb, the 49ers made it a 59-56 game. From that point on, the 49ers and Rainbow Warriors traded baskets down the stretch.
Long Beach got a rare offensive boost from Cobb as he made a corner three pointer with three minutes remaining. Before Thursday, Cobb was 1-for-10 from three point land this season.
With 22 seconds to play Hawai’i forward Zigmars Raimo made a layup to tie the game at 66 and Booker called timeout after advancing the ball to half court with 15 seconds left. Monson drew up a play intended for a Booker-Roberts pick and roll. After Hawai’i defenders hedged hard on the ball screen, Booker dished the ball to Roberts who crossed over and rose up for the game-winning jumper from just inside the elbow.
Long Beach handed Irvine its only loss in conference play Jan. 16, but lost to the team off a game-winning shot Feb. 2.
“I feel like we match up well with them,” Booker said. “I feel we should have two wins against them. I’m confident about where we are.”
Long Beach will advance to the semifinals for a 6:30 p.m. Friday matchup against UC Irvine.