Caffey’s late bucket gives Long Beach State win over Cal Poly
It was so typical.
In the waning minutes of Thursday night’s Big West Conference game between Long Beach State and Cal Poly, the two opponents traded baskets, back and forth, building the intensity with each change of the lead.
With The Beach down two, Mike Caffey grabbed an offensive rebound and found Tyler Lamb for a three. Then a Caffey jumper made the lead four. And then it disappeared after a turnover, two free throws and a jumper by David Nwaba with only 20 seconds left.
Cal Poly should have the momentum after that, right? There’s never any real momentum when these two teams play.
Caffey, again the hero, made one final basket with just 1.1 second left on the clock. The 49ers avoided a second-straight overtime with a 50-48 win.
"I told our guys you better keep them under 50 because you’re not going to score much more than that," Long Beach head coach Dan Monson said. "You have to have that mindset coming in."
It had shades of the 49ers’ 63-62 win over the Mustangs last season. And the 50-48 win at the Pyramid from two years ago.
Somehow, two teams with two completely different styles of play always tend to produce close games. You’ll have to look all the way back to the 2010-2011 season to find games the two that didn’t come down to the wire.
Under head coach Joe Callero, Cal Poly plays a maddeningly effective half-court offense with a 1-3-1 defense. The Beach likes to open it up, spread the floor and play a zone defense in order to get out into a transition offense. The only common theme is that both teams fight to dictate the tempo.
"It’s draining for us because of the way we like to play," Caffey said. "They’re a hard-headed defensive team and we struggle every year scoring against them."
With the Mustangs’ bleed-the-clock ways every mistake is magnified, every possession a marathon.
"They’re going to take the clock down," Monson said. "Every mistake in this game is like having two mistakes in a normal game because there are half as many possessions."
"If they get an offensive rebound, that’s a whole minute that they waste," Caffey said. "Rebounding is key for this team."
It’s not a matchup that typically brings out the best in either opponent. It didn’t bring out the best in Caffey, who went 7-for-17 from the field with only 14 points and four assists. The way Caffey goes, the team typically goes. But with the way David Samuels hustled on the glass in the final minutes and the calm that the rest of the team kept, Caffey was put in position to make a big play.
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"They didn’t panic and they got the ball to the best player and he made a great play at the end," Monson said. "This wasn’t mike’s best game and we won. There’s been very few games this year – we have eight wins and this is the first one of the eight where he didn’t have a great game offensively."
Caffey didn’t trust his instincts on that final play. It was an off night, so he trusted those of assistant coach Rod Palmer instead.
"I looked at Coach Palmer and Coach Palmer said take it to the rim. Usually, I would have just shot it," he said. "I live for moments like these to have the last shot with the ball in my hands. You always want to be that guy that wants to make that winning basket or that winning pass."
The Big West race is just heating up, but the Mustangs and their low-scoring, defensive ways will cool down even the most scorching teams.