Byrd is clutch late for 49ers

first_imgSAN LUIS OBISPO – Long Beach State senior forward Sterling Byrd spent most of the second half of the 49ers’ Big West Conference game against the Cal Poly Mustangs in Mott Gymnasium on the bench with four personal fouls and something short of a sunny disposition. “I was hanging my head and I’d gone into the tank,” the Centennial High graduate said. With the 49ers switching the screens after three dribble handoffs by Mustangs, the 6-foot-6 Byrd found himself face to face with the 5-11 Trae Clark. Clark tried to create some space with a couple of dribble moves but Byrd stayed in front of him, then slapped Clark’s shot from the left wing into the air with about three seconds to go, and batted the ball to Houston near mid-court as time expired. “I think they (the Mustangs) were so focused on Kevin and Aaron (Nixon, who finished with a game-high 26 points with four assists and seven steals) that they kind of forgot about Byrd,” Long Beach coach Larry Reynolds said, after his team improved to 16-6 overall and 7-2 in the Big West to remain in first place. Thirteen Long Beach turnovers and six 3-pointers (most of those uncontested) gave the Mustangs a 36-22 lead late in the first half. But then the 49ers stepped up their defensive pressure to reel off 10 consecutive points, and they trailed 38-34 at intermission. “The way we were playing, I was just hoping we could cut the lead to less than 10 at halftime,” Reynolds said. The come-from-behind victory left the 49ers unbeaten during the three-game suspensions of guard Kejuan Johnson and Mark Dawson. They will be back in uniform Saturday night at UCSB. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! But the head was up, shoulders pulled back and the smile on his face befitted that of a player who’d climbed out of the tank just in time to help his team pick up its first conference road victory of the season, 80-77, in front of 2,711 mostly disappointed spectators Thursday night. Byrd, whistled for his fourth foul with 11:43 remaining, re-entered the contest with 5:29 to go and his team trailing by three points. center_img He’d missed all three of his field goal attempts (all behind the 3-point arc) but his touch couldn’t have returned in a more timely fashion. His 3-pointer from the left wing after dribble penetration and a pass by Kevin Houston put the 49ers up, 72-71, with 3:12 remaining. After Matt Hanson’s layup for the Mustangs tied the score at 73, Byrd took a pass from reserve guard Artis Gant and knocked in another 3, this one from the right wing, to put his team back in front with 1:51 to go. Byrd wasn’t through, though. After Houston (who had career highs with 22 points and eight rebounds, as well as a team-high five assists) dropped in two free throws to bring Long Beach’s lead to 80-77, Cal Poly coach Kevin Bromley called a timeout with 17.1 seconds to go. last_img