A final minute-and-a-half - the last 11/2 minutes to be played in the Spectrum this season - took about 25 minutes to play and very nearly robbed Utah State of a final home win Saturday night.
"That's the longest two minutes I have ever spent in my life," said Utah State Coach Kohn Smith, who was as stunned as his players about the ferocious Long Beach State comeback and the Aggies' sudden feebleness at the free-throw line. The best free-throw shooting team in the Big West Conference missed eight of its last 16 attempts from the line in the final 1:18 and four of its last six in the final :24 of the game."I just can't imagine things going the way they went," Smith said.
The Aggies survived, 90-89 over Long Beach State, but perhaps only by the grace of an intentional foul with :06 left that sent Bryon Ruffner to the line, where he missed both shots, but the Aggies got the ball back out of bounds and were able to kill out the final agonizing seconds.
Utah State had been ahead by 10 points, 81-71, with 1:25 to play on two Kendall Youngblood free throws, but Long Beach fouled the Aggies diligently and made three three-point shots in the final :43 and got to 88-86 before Bryon Russell fouled Aggie Matt Barnes on an out-of-bounds play, an automatic technical that sent Youngblood to the line, where he made one of two for an 89-86 lead.
Another foul gave Youngblood two more shots - he made one to finish the night with a career-high 29 points - for the Aggies' final 90, and Bobby Sears' three-pointer from the top of the key cut the lead to just one with :13 left.
The intentional foul, allowing the Aggies the final inbounds play, on which Youngblood eluded a would-be fouler - allowed USU to finish with the win.
"At home - we're the best free-throw shooting team in the league - so you'd think we'd make them," said Youngblood, who was 12-for-16 from the line.
It may have had something to do with awe over the 49er comeback.
"Yeah, we couldn't believe that they'd come back, come down and just all of a sudden get those threes," said Youngblood. "We were right in their face.
"It kind of put us down, and we're thinking, `Gol, they might have a chance to win this,"' Youngblood said.
Smith admitted he'd thought it was over a couple minutes too soon. The Aggies had, after all, led the entire game. They were never behind. They got up 18-9 and stayed five to 10 ahead the whole way.
"I've kinda got a soft heart," Smith said, questioning his own judgment at trying to get his seniors and others who hadn't played much into the game at the end.
"I thought the game was in pretty good shape," Smith admitted.
The Aggies made 30 of 52 free throws for the game - 58 percent.
"It should have been a 20-point game," Smith lamented. "Normally, we'd knock them down, and we just choked 'em, and then they'd shoot off-balance and we'd foul them."
Or they'd make them.
"We didn't play the last minute with very much thought," said Smith.
"Blame it on me," said Long Beach Coach Seth Greenberg, who gave Youngblood three free throws with two technical fouls that got him ejected with 3:07 to play and Utah State up 71-61. Youngblood's two on Greenberg's second made it a 12-point Aggie lead.
"We showed character at the end," said Greenberg, who wasn't really around to see it.
He did see most of the game, and he didn't like a lot that he saw. "We played a lethargic 37 minutes," he said, adding he didn't want to belittle what Utah State did to earn its leads.
"He had a real nice game plan," Greenberg said about Smith, whose team pushed the ball straight to the basket all night - the Aggies did miss 12 layups the first half but made 19; the second half, they were 13-for-16 on layups - and they used weak-side help defensively to neutralize Long Beach's height advantage.
Greenberg noted that Long Beach couldn't contain Aggie seniors Allen Gordon (14 points) and Rich Jardine (12 points the first half).
"This is it for me," said point-guard Gordon, who played from the opening minute like it was his last home game, which it was. "I decided to push it up the court so Kendall could get open shots." Gordon scored five quick points - two baskets and a free throw - and assisted Ruffner on a layup that led to a free throw as USU jumped from a 57-50 lead to 65-53 with 8:07 left. It turned out the Aggies needed every point.
Long Beach point guard Sears, who was 5-for-8 on three-pointers, finished with 24 to lead his team. Ruffner, Jardine and Gordon had 14 each for the Aggies. Kevin Cutler topped rebounders with 14, and Youngblood had 11.
The Aggies remained alone in fourth place in the Big West as third-place Pacific dragged out a two-point victory at home against Fresno. Pacific is 9-7, Utah State 8-8 with two road games left before the Big West tournament in Long Beach.