Perhaps fitting for a team that gave its all during a season filled with twists and turns, the University of Hawai’i basketball team finished with an empty gas tank.
The Warriors matched Long Beach State for the first 32 minutes, then fell behind in the final eight minutes of a 73-62 loss to the 49ers in a quarterfinal game of the Big West Conference Tournament at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.
Hawai’i, which received word that it could participate in the tournament less than a week ago, completed its season at 14-16, including two consecutive losses to Long Beach to close the season. The Warriors were the No. 5 seed for the tournament.
Long Beach State, which was the No. 4 seed, improved to 15-18 and advanced to Friday’s semifinals against top seed UC Irvine.
“These are tough,” Hawai’i head coach Eran Ganot said. “The finale hits you pretty hard. I was telling the guys it’d be nice to go back to a routine and watch some film and get our guys ready for tomorrow’s game, but it doesn’t work out that way sometimes.”
Senior forward Noah Allen capped his brilliant senior season at UH with 21 points on 7-for-14 shooting. After playing the final collegiate game of his career, he noted: “How thankful and blessed I am to have been given this opportunity to be coached by this staff and to be embraced by my teammates. The fan base and the culture have been really special to me.”
Junior forward Gibson Johnson added 18 points on 8-for-13 shooting, and grabbed six rebounds; Sheriff Drammeh scored nine for the Warriors. Sophomore forward Jack Purchase started, but was limited to two points on 1-of-6 shooting in 25 minutes He was listed as a game-time decision due to an ankle injury.
“It’s tough but that’s why we do what we do, we love the emotion involved, the ups and downs,” Ganot said. “I give credit, obviously, to Long Beach State for a hard fought win. A lot of respect there. They did what they needed to do and made big plays down the stretch, we didn’t, they did and they deserve a lot of credit for that.”
Long Beach State shot 53.1 percent from the field, including a combined 11 for 11 shooting night from forwards Barry Ogalue (7 for 7) and Temidayo Yussuf (4 for 4). Hawai’i shot 38.3 percent from the field, and also did not help its cause at the free-throw line (11 for 21, 52.4 percent).
Long Beach State point guard Justin Bibbins finished with 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field and 9 for 9 on free throws. He also had six assists.
“We didn’t play perfect by any means,” Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson said. “Justin (Bibbins) really set the tone for us mentally and he came out and was so aggressive offensively and really carried us until we got some other guys comfortable with the flow. I thought our defense carried us.”
The first 32 minutes of the game featured seven lead changes and 10 ties.
Hawai’i led by as many as six points (17-11 and 19-13) early in the first half, but the 49ers went on a 10-2 surge to take a 23-21 lead with 6:05 remaining in the first half. A 3-pointer by Leland Green gave the lead back to the Warriors at 25-24.
Hawai’i eventually took a 35-33 lead at halftime, with Allen (14) and Johnson (11) accounting for 25 of the points.
Long Beach out-scored Hawai’i 15-6 in the first five minutes of the second half to take a 48-41 advantage.
The Warriors caught the 49ers again at 54 when Brocke Stepteau found Johnson driving to the basket for a layup with 9:08 remaining. The 49ers responded immediately with an 10-0 surge to take control for good at 64-54 with 4:51 left.
Hawai’i never got closer than nine the rest of the way, and the 49ers stretched the lead in the final three minutes.
“This group, its tough because they want to keep playing,” Ganot said. “That’s the beauty of their game sometimes, the heartache and the great moments. And we fought hard today, we had some adversity we had to go through, but the fight was always there, 100 percent, and it has been all year with our limited depth, and things we were going through. Through all that we went into the final week of the year confident in third place with a chance to, final weekend of the year, be back-to-back top three finishes which never happened in conference affiliation for our program. That’s incredible for a group that had one-point per game returning (from last season).”
Ogalue scored 16 points for the 49ers, and Yussuf added nine points and eight rebounds. In the last two games against Hawai’i, Yussuf scored 32 points and shot 13 for 13 from the field.
“We didn’t get it done tonight but that’s life,” Ganot said. “I think we’ll handle it well as we have all year.”