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Long Beach State makes matters even worse for Loyola

Nixon's long three-point basket gives 49ers a 66-65 victory over Lions, who have lost two top scorers.

December 23, 2006|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

At some point, Loyola Marymount basketball Coach Rodney Tention will probably have a worse week as a coach than he has had this week.

Then again, maybe not.

The capper came Friday night at Gersten Pavilion, where Long Beach State guard Aaron Nixon broke the Lions' hearts with a three-point basket from just inside half court as time expired to give the 49ers a 66-65 victory over the Lions.

And that was hardly the worst thing that happened to the Lions this week.

Midway through the second half, second-leading scorer and leading rebounder Matthew Knight crashed to the floor with a knee injury and he will sit out up to a month with a strained tendon.

That news came just days after the Lions lost leading scorer Brandon Worthy for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered Tuesday with 10 seconds left in a double-overtime victory over Boise State.

"It's tough," said Tention, the Lions' second-year coach. "But nobody's going to feel sorry for us. Nobody is going come out and play with their six through 10 guys just because our two big guns are out."

Worthy was averaging 18.5 points and 4.5 rebounds and Knight was averaging 17.8 points and 8.7 rebounds. Their combined points had been 53% of Loyola's offense and their rebounds had been more than a third of the Lions' average.

With them, Loyola had hopes of dethroning Gonzaga as the West Coast Conference champion, something the Lions would have done last season if not for a missed layup at the buzzer in the conference title game.

Without them, the Lions (8-6) didn't figure to challenge Long Beach State (7-4), but they did, rallying from a 55-44 deficit with 10 minutes 6 seconds to play.

Derick Grubb made a jump shot from about eight feet with two seconds to play, giving the Lions a 65-63 lead and hope of pulling off an unlikely victory.

But on the ensuing inbounds play, a Loyola player tipped the ball out of bounds, giving Long Beach State possession at half court with 1.8 seconds on the clock. Nixon passed the ball in to Kevin Houston, who gave it right back and Nixon, who had made only one of his previous 12 shots in the game, swished the shot from about 35 feet.

"I told Kevin they didn't have anyone on me," said Nixon, who made a half-court shot in a Big West Conference semifinal to beat UC Irvine in March. "Then I was like, 'Why did I say that? Now they're going to guard me.' But they didn't."

The ball going through the basket was like a needle going into a balloon for a Lions team that had fought back without its top players.

"We competed when we could have easily folded up," Tention said. "But I hate moral victories. I will not let these kids fold up. We're good enough to win without Brandon and Matt. Sure it's going to be tough, but it was going to be tough with Brandon and Matt."

peter.yoon@latimes.com

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