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LBSU drops Big West Tournament final in close game, will play in NIT

In a season where they had 12 games decided by five or less points, the 49ers lose by four in Big West finale.

Will Hernandez, Assistant Sports Editor

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LBSU walks off the court as Hawai'i celebrates its Big West Tournament championship. The Rainbow Warriors won 64-60 on Saturday inside the Honda Center in Anaheim.

Ben Hammerton | Daily 49er
LBSU walks off the court as Hawai’i celebrates its Big West Tournament championship. The Rainbow Warriors won 64-60 on Saturday inside the Honda Center in Anaheim.

ANAHEIM, Calif. — It was a bitter end to an unprecedented run for the Long Beach State men’s basketball team which fell just short of sweeping the Big West Tournament and earning an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament, losing to Hawai’i 64-60 in the championship game on Saturday night inside the Honda Center.

With Hawai’i (27-5, 13-3) leading 62-60, LBSU point guard Justin Bibbins pump faked a defender off of him and heaved up a three pointer with 5 seconds remaining. But like LBSU’s quest to capture the Big West Tournament title, the sophomore’s shot came up short.

“He got a good look; if that goes in, we might be out on the court right now [celebrating],” LBSU head coach Dan Monson said. “We were trying to flare him for a three in the corner and he did a good job of coming back for it.”

After shooting a dismal 31 percent from the field and 22 percent from downtown in the first half, the 49ers woke up in the second. Nevertheless, it was an uphill battle for the 49ers who never gained a lead in the entire half.

“I felt like our guys were so excited for the opportunity to play tonight that it took us 30 minutes to settle down on the offensive end,” Monson said. “Defensively we held them to 64 points, but we never got in an offensive rhythm.”

Leading by two with 3:27 left to play, Hawai’i forward Stefan Jankovic got a step on LBSU senior captain Nick Faust and began to dribble drive to the paint. Faust reached in and was charged with his fifth personal foul of the game.

“That [fifth] foul was something he didn’t need to do,”  Monson said. “I can’t fault the kid for trying too hard.”

Junior forward Travis Hammonds (left) and senior guard Nick Faust (right) sit on the bench in the final seconds of LBSU's 64-60 loss to Hawai'i in the Big West Tournament final. Both players fouled out of the game.

Lalig Tarbinian | Daily 49er
Junior forward Travis Hammonds (left) and senior guard Nick Faust (right) sit on the bench in the final seconds of LBSU’s 64-60 loss to Hawai’i in the Big West Tournament final. Both players fouled out of the game.

Faust finished with a game-high 17 points and eight rebounds, and although he fouled out, LBSU kept its composure in the final minutes. Sophomore Gabe Levin tied the score at 58 with a layup, but Jankovic drilled a three to light up Hawai’i’s crowd.

After a couple misses by both teams,  junior forward Travis Hammonds grabbed senior guard A.J. Spencer’s missed three pointer and put it through the rim to cut the 49ers’ deficit down to one with 1:29 left to play.

Hammonds, who scored 12 points and was the 49ers’ second leading scorer, showed why he was the league’s best sixth man of the year in the second half of Saturday night’s tournament finale.

“He never got his rhythm in the first half, but in the second half he was a catalyst,” Monson said. “Trav is one of those guys that can get his own shot. He is a tough matchup and competed hard today.”

However, LBSU’s depth chart took a second jab after Hammonds picked up his fifth foul with 1:06 remaining. Like Faust, Hammonds’ day was over. Despite being without their two leading scorers, the 49ers were only down by two points in the last seconds of the game.

LBSU had won 11 of its last 12 games prior to the tournament finale, including a 77-72 win over UC Irvine in the semifinals round on Friday.

The 49ers had six players score in double digits and needed every one of them against the Anteaters.

In the quarterfinal round, the 49ers struggled to limit UC Riverside (14-19, 5-11) from beyond the arc, but led by Faust’s 21 points and 10 rebounds, LBSU pulled away in the final two minutes of the game to win 82-74 on Thursday night.

LBSU finished 20-14 overall and 12-4 in conference play, and although the 49ers came up short of a 10th career NCAA tournament appearance, they earned a seat to the NIT tournament.

The 49ers are a sixth seed and will play third-seeded University of Washington in the first round of the NIT tournament on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Seattle, Washington.

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