The Long Beach City College men’s basketball team faced a difficult test against Pasadena on Friday night, as the Vikings looked to remain tied atop the South Coast Conference. LBCC’s Kristien Owens hit a huge jump shot with just under a minute left to put his team ahead 74-72. After a layup from Taj Spencer (22 points) tied the game at 75 with 16.3 to play, Owens made an even bigger bucket. With the clock winding down in regulation, Owens banked in a deep three from the left wing in front of the LBCC bench, dropping it in with 1.2 seconds remaining for a thrilling 78-75 victory.

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“Honestly, I didn’t think it was gonna go in,” said Owens of the final shot. “I was off-balance after I made my move. I thought it was an air ball.”

Fortunately for the Wilson High grad, it was anything but an air ball, and it helps erase a disappointing stretch of games for the talented guard, who is second on the team in scoring.

“It was a relief,” admitted Owens of the feeling of hitting the game-winner. “I was sitting on the bench the whole time just waiting, and it feels like a weight was lifted off my shoulders.”

Owens had 12 points for LBCC off the bench. Brandon Staton led the team with 16, scoring 11 in the second half. Chris Spencer had nine points and 10 rebounds for LBCC.

“I’m lost for words but at the same time I have so much to say,” said a jubilant LBCC head coach Barry Barnes following the win. “It’s the first time in a long time I didn’t say anything to the guys after a game.”

As for the last play, Barnes had confidence in Owens to make a play. “I had a timeout that I was gonna use, but once I saw K.O. with the ball I told the team to flatten out and let him score,” remembered Barnes. “I wanted him to go to the basket, but I’ll take the three.”

The teams were even throughout the second half, with Long Beach leading by four points or less for most of the period. Pasadena stayed close and eventually pulled ahead 70-67 at the 4:30 mark.

Elijah Gaines came out firing for the Vikings, who led by 9 midway through the first half, by scoring 12 of his 14 points in the opening 20 minutes. LBCC shot a whopping 25 free throws in the first 20 minutes, converting 15 of them to lead 42-40 at the break.

Long Beach improves to 15-7, 7-1 in the SCC, while Pasadena falls to 17-7, 5-3 in conference.

“It’s been a crazy year,” Barnes said. “We started the year looking dead in the water, and when we held a shoot around over winter break and only four guys were able to show up (due to injury). So to come full circle, I’m just so happy for the coaches, the players and all the fans that supported us through this process.”

Sports Guy Mike Guardabascio has been writing professionally for a decade, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards and is the author of the historical book "Football in Long Beach."

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