Despite fighting tooth and hoof to come back from a 14-point Aggies lead with five minutes left, the Long Beach State men’s basketball team fell in the game’s final moments 77-76 Saturday at the Pavilion.
The loss marks two straight for the Beach (10-20, 5-9 Big West), and ensures that it will finish under .500 in conference play for the first time since head coach Dan Monson’s debut 2007-08 season (3-13) with the program.
Entering the matchup as the fifth best 3-point shooting team in the nation, UC Davis (14-16, 8-6 Big West) led for 90% of the night behind 13 makes from deep on a 48% clip (13-27 3FG).
After committing just three turnovers in the first half however, the Aggies gave up the ball seven times as the Beach’s full-court press fueled its 18-5 run to tie the game with under two minutes left in the game.
Both teams traded layups before UC Davis hit a three, but sent Long Beach sophomore guard Chance Hunter to the free throw line with the chance to take the lead with six seconds left.
Missing the back-end of the pair with the game tied, the Aggies were able to secure the rebound and take it the length of the floor before junior forward Kennedy Koehler was fouled on a baseline layup. Koehler knocked down the game-winning free throw with 1.1 seconds, and the Beach was unable to get up a final shot.
The Aggies tormented the Beach with its small-ball, perimeter-oriented offense as three guards finished in double-figure scoring, all off of the Davis bench.
Senior guard Stefan Gonzalez and sophomore guard Caleb Fuller each had a team-high 16 points, and combined for seven threes to lead the Aggies. Before fouling out, senior guard Joe Mooney danced and dabbled his way into 15 points and three 3-pointers on an array of stepbacks and pull-up jumpers.
Recovering from what was a discouraging first half littered with 12 turnovers, Long Beach stepped it up on both ends the rest of the way. With UC Davis suiting up just one player taller than 6-feet-5-inches, the Beach won the rebounding battle 33-25 and doubled the Aggies’ paint points 40-20.
In what was a nice bounceback game for the Beach’s leading scorer with 25 points and two 3-pointers, Hunter also turned in an impressive game-high eight rebounds. Adding eight rebounds of his own, freshman center Joshua Morgan also put up 14 points and three blocks.
Moving to 0-17 when its opponents score more than 70 points, Long Beach’s postseason ticket to the Big West tournament hangs in the balance more than ever with just two games to decide remaining.
Long Beach State will return to the Walter Pyramid to host Cal Poly on Thursday, March 5, at 7 p.m.