It’s a big final stretch of games for the Highlanders (9-19, 3-9). They currently sit in eighth place in the Big West with five games left to play. If the season ended today, they would play the currently top-seeded UC Irvine Anteaters in the first round of the Big West Conference Tournament, a team they lost to by 18 earlier this season.
Looking to improve their odds, UCR welcomed the Long Beach State 49ers (11-18, 5-8), who entered Saturday’s contest a half-game ahead of the Highlanders.
Early on in the game, UCR’s defense stood out as they had several steals that turned into timely baskets on the other end. The 49ers struggled to find a rhythm early, as they shot just 33 percent from the field compared to 50 percent for the Highlanders. Despite this, UCR only led 32-26 at half time.
As was the case in many games earlier this season, the Highlanders could not hold onto their halftime lead. After building a nine-point advantage about seven minutes into the second half, the 49ers came rallying back, using a 13-2 run to retake the lead.
With the Highlanders down 59-57 with under a minute to play, sophomore guard Jordan Gilliam sank a mid-range shot to even the score. The basket would be the last either team made, sending the game into overtime.
The Highlander’s hopes of stealing an overtime win were soon dashed, as they could not convert on several point-blank layups and had several lapses defensively.
“I think some of those missed layups were due to fatigue,” said Head Coach David Patrick following the team’s first overtime game this year.
One such lapse occurred with just under 1:45 in overtime. After the 49ers split free throws, a missed box out led to Long Beach recovering the offensive rebound, which led to another foul and a two-possession deficit.
Also, after junior guard Dikymbe Martin missed a potential game-tying shot, the Highlanders fouled when there was about a five-second difference between the shot clock and game clock, ending any chance of getting a stop and one last-ditch effort to win the game. UCR lost 71-67.
For the 49ers, sophomore guard Jordan Roberts led all players with 18 points. Sophomore guard Drew Cobb finished with a game-tying five assists, and redshirt senior center Temidayo Yussuf led the team with nine rebounds.
Freshman center Callum McRae led the team in scoring with 16 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, while Martin finished with a game-high tying five assists.
Despite the tough loss, Patrick had words of optimism for the program’s future.
“The guys in the program are the guys that work hard in the classroom and on the floor,” he said. “We’ve got a great foundation and bright spots for us moving forward.”
Up next, the Highlanders travel to take on the Cal State Northridge Matadors (11-17, 5-7) Wednesday, Feb. 27. They will also host UC Irvine (23-5, 11-1) in a potential first round meeting in their final home game of the season Saturday, March 2.