UCSB’s home opener was spoiled Tuesday night by a burly San Francisco team in a nail-biting 77-74 overtime loss at the Thunderdome.
Santa Barbara, 0-2, shot itself in the foot with awful free throw shooting down the stretch, enabling the Dons to win their first game of the season. Sophomore forward Mark Hull led the Gaucho attack with 18 points on 7-12 shooting. Yet, USF forward Darrell Tucker stole the show by pumping in a game-high 22 points, while 7’0″ teammate Hondre Brewer contributed 13 points, 8 blocks and 13 rebounds.
The combination of a lively crowd and a swarming man defense rattled the Dons and enabled the Gauchos to take a 33-23 halftime lead. Santa Barbara created quality shots on aggressive guard penetration and excellent ball distribution. UCSB shot 50 percent from the field in the first half, while the Dons shot a meager 35 percent.
UCSB started pulling away from USF after Hull threw down a two-handed jam for a 35-24 lead with 18 minutes remaining. However, the Dons slowly chipped away at the lead by capitalizing on their height advantage. Brewer scored all 13 of his points in the second half.
“We will have to get better defensively on the ball,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said. “We don’t have a shot blocker considering [senior forward] Adama [Ndiaye] is out. We will have to play better team defense and prevent the opposition from getting down low in the future.”
The Dons went on an 11-3 run after trailing by 12 to cut the Gaucho lead to 41-37 with 14 minutes left. Senior guard LaRon Bryant, who scored 15 points, momentarily stopped USF’s momentum with a deep three and a right baseline jumper to put Santa Barbara on top 46-39. Yet, Tucker answered with a one-handed stuff to keep his team within striking distance with 10 minutes remaining.
Don guard Ali Thomas hit his third trey of the second half to give his team its first lead of the game at 59-56 with 4:30 on the clock. Hull answered with a jumper, but USF guard James Lee responded with a three-point play off a fast break lay-up.
Senior forward Juliano Jordani was called for an intentional foul while trying to block a Brewer dunk that led to a free throw and a three on USF’s following possession. UCSB got the ball back with under a minute to play trailing 66-64. Sophomore guard B.J. Ward rocked the Thunderdome crowd after penetrating the lane and slamming down a thunderous dunk while being fouled. After the free throw, the Gauchos led 67-66 with 48 seconds remaining.
Tucker got the ball down low and hit a jump hook to recapture the lead with 38 seconds left. With the crowd on its feet, Ward got the call again and converted a swiping layup to retain the one-point advantage. With no time outs remaining, the Dons quickly took the ball straight to the hole. Forward Eugene Brown was fouled and he connected on one free throw to tie the game at 69-69. The Gauchos had one last chance with 9 seconds remaining, but Ward’s jumper was off.
“I saw openings, so I took advantage of them,” Ward said. “Coach emphasized that we should take the ball to the hole.”
The Dons capitalized on UCSB’s poor free throw shooting in the overtime period to snuff out any Gaucho victory. Santa Barbara had a chance to tie the game with 20 seconds remaining, but could not find an open man and Jordani was forced to take a three that was off target.
“It’s frustrating that we tried so hard and couldn’t pull the game out in the end,” junior forward Mike Vukovich said.