UPDATED: Warriors lose a heartbreaker at Long Beach
LONG BEACH, Calif. – One by one, the members of the Hawai’i basketball team made their way out of the visitors locker room at The Walter Pyramid, heads down, but spirits up.
Moments earlier, the Warriors suffered an agonizing 76-72 loss to Long Beach State before a crowd of 2,749 in an early season showdown for first place in the Big West Conference.
“It’s very frustrating because we feel like we should have won it,” senior point guard Jace Tavita said. “I’m proud of how we responded though; how we came back from adversity. We were down and just kept fighting, put ourselves in a position to win and just didn’t make the plays at the end. It’s a mixed feeling – frustrating and it’s a bright thing because it shows how much heart we have.”
Hawai’i dropped to 9-7 overall and 3-2 in the Big West, with both losses coming in frustrating fashion on this road trip. The good news is the Warriors are only a game out of first place, as Long Beach State moved into sole possession at the top at 4-1. The 49ers are 8-8 overall, and increased their Big West home winning streak to 20 … barely.
The Warriors trailed by as many as 10 points midway through the second half, but rallied to tie the game at 72 with 1:08 remaining. The final minute was frantic, with Long Beach State scoring the game-winner with 1.7 seconds remaining, and Hawai’i finishing the game with head coach Gib Arnold in the locker room.
Mike Caffey led the 49ers with 18 points, including the game-winning shot – a difficult driving floater from just inside the lane.
“He just put his head down, drove in, put the floater up … he made a good play, a winning play,” said Tavita, who shadowed Caffey on the play.
Hawai’i’s Garrett Jefferson then threw a length of the court pass that Davis Rozitis tipped to teammate Brandon Jawato, but before a shot could go up the referee called a foul on Rozitis for a push off.
“We were all in a pile,” Rozitis said. “I might have pushed him, someone was pushing me from behind. Usually they don’t call that stuff at the end of the game … it is what it is.”
Arnold vehemently protested the call and was assessed a technical foul – his second of the game, thus resulting in his ejection. Long Beach State’s Peter Pappageorge made two free throws with 0.9 seconds remaining for the final margin.
Arnold was the last person to leave the locker room after the game, exiting nearly 10 minutes after the players.
“Obviously we’re disappointed in the loss, but I tell you what, I’ll go to battle anywhere, any night with our team,” he said. “I thought they played with great energy and played together and did a nice job. We got the ball with under 20 seconds, tie score, and a chance to win, and didn’t finish. Didn’t get a shot up and then didn’t get a stop. Those are two things you have to do on the road … we let this one slide but I’m not taking anything away from the kids. I thought they gave every bit, everything they had.”
Freshman guard Jawato fueled the Hawai’i rally in the second half, scoring 10 of his team-high 16 points in the final 5:20 of the game. He finished 6 of 9 from the field, including 4 of 6 from 3-point range.
“It was very frustrating,” Jawato said. “We gave it all out tonight. Once again we lost because of turnovers, but we fought hard. They were a great team and we just couldn’t pull away with one.”
Senior center Vander Joaquim added 13 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes. He was limited to eight minutes (and five points) in the first half due to foul problems.
The Warriors were ahead 14-9 when Joaquim went to the bench with his second foul. Long Beach State ended the first half with a 43-36 lead. “It was frustrating for me because I wasn’t out there to help my teammates,” he said.
“We have to be able to find ways to keep him in the game,” Arnold said. “It’s tough because we want him in there being a presence and blocking shots, but he’s also our best low post threat and our veteran so we need to have him in there.”
Jawato’s fourth 3-pointer of the game tied the score at 72 with 1:08 remaining. On Long Beach State’s ensuing possession, Dan Jennings was fouled and he air-balled both free throws, giving the ball back to Hawai’i.
Then the turnover bug bit the Warriors again, as they threw the ball out of bounds with 13.7 seconds remaining while trying to set up a go-ahead shot. Hauns Brereton was credited with the turnover because the ball went off his leg, but it appeared to be a team mistake.
“Miscommunication,” Tavita said. “It was just a bad play. We have to tighten that up. It can’t happen again.”
The Warriors committed 17 turnovers in each of their road losses this week. “We turned the ball over a few times down the stretch, but overall we played hard as a team,” Joaquim said. “We just made some bad plays at the end.”
Arnold used a rotation of 10 players interchangeably throughout the game, and each of those 10 players scored at least three points.
“I told them that the guys who gave great effort and were strong in taking care of the ball were going to play,” he explained. “And this was the second game of the road trip so I wanted to keep our energy and our legs. I thought we guarded and executed our offense well all night because we kept putting guys in.”
Junior forward Christian Standhardinger finished with season-lows of six points and three rebounds, although he played just 12 minutes.
The Warriors shot a respectable 48.3 percent from the field, but went just 7 for 15 (46.7 percent) from the free-throw line. The 49ers shot 46.2 percent from the field and went 18 for 29 (62.1 percent) from the field.
Long Beach State went 10 for 23 from 3-point range, with freshman Deng Deng going 4 for 6 from deep. He was being recruited by Hawai’i a year ago.
Hawai’i was assessed three technical fouls during the game – two on Arnold and one on Garrett Jefferson for looking at the Long Beach State bench after he drained a 3 in the first half. The 49ers took advantage by going 6 for 6 on free throws as a result of those technicals.
The Warriors are scheduled to return to Honolulu on Sunday afternoon, and their next two games will be at home. They will host Pacific on Thursday, and UC Davis on Saturday.
(Game photos courtesy Warren Haraki)