In what was a true tale of two halves, the Long Beach State men’s basketball team rallied back from an 18-point deficit to stun Cal Poly in overtime 80-73 Thursday.
Moving to 2-0 in games with extra frames and snapping its 17-game losing trend when allowing opponents to score 70 or more, the Beach (11-20, 6-9 Big West) clinched a spot in the Big West tournament for the 16th consecutive season.
“We didn’t tell [our guys] that if we want it, we still had a chance on Saturday,” Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson said. “We said we have to win this game, and we definitely reiterated it at halftime.”
The Beach trailed the entire first half behind 7-for-24 (29%) shooting, 10 turnovers committed and surrendered six made Mustang (7-22, 4-11 Big West) threes. The rest of the way however, the Beach shot 17-for-32 (53%) and held the Mustangs to 10-for-33 (30%) shooting from the floor.
With Long Beach holding its largest lead of the game at 12 with less than 10 minutes to go in the second half, the Mustangs went on a 16-5 run to cut it to one in the final minutes of the game.
Freshman center Joshua Morgan extended the lead back to three for the Beach with a jumper in the paint, making it 64-61 with 1:05 remaining.
Cal Poly sophomore guard Junior Ballard answered right back after converting shots all night, knocking down a last-second three to send the game to overtime with 0.7 seconds left.
Long Beach was not fazed by the last-minute heroics however, outscoring the Mustangs 16-9 in overtime behind strong transition pressure offensively.
Scoring 18 of Long Beach’s 40 second half points, senior guard Jordan Griffin caught fire to ignite the Beach-faithful in his final night suiting up at the Walter Pyramid. Griffin also added three 3-pointers, five rebounds and two steals.
“[Jordan Griffin] is an unbelievable teammate,” Monson said. “His career for him has been one of sacrifice. The one thing I know for him is if he makes one, he’s gonna make three, and that was my direct quote to my offensive coordinator. … I have as much confidence in him as any kid I’ve had offensively.”
Reaching 105 made 3-pointers in his four years playing for Monson, Griffin took sole possession of 15th place in Long Beach State’s list of all-time three-point-makes.
“I was focused the whole time,” Griffin said. “I felt a different energy tonight. I was locked in more than ever. Mentally, I was always in the game and it just carried. First half, I missed a couple shots, but it didn’t bother me. I just kept shooting and it fell.”
Morgan was sensational defensively once again, continuing his climb up the Long Beach State and Big West career blocks leaderboards with five rejections. Morgan recorded a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
With junior guard Colin Slater and sophomore center Trever Irish dressed in polos due to violating team policy, the Beach rolled out an 8-man rotation. Junior guard Drew Cobb picked up his play with 13 points, three assists and two steals in a game-high 38 minutes.
“The tournament [championship], for some teams in our league, is you have to win three [games],” Monson said. “We need to win five. Obviously, we’re in the tournament now, but for us to win it, we really gotta go play good on Saturday and have some momentum going in there.”
Long Beach will close Big West regular season play on the road against Fullerton at the Titan Gym on Saturday, March 7 at 7:30 p.m.