Instead of busting a move on Detroit Mercy in ESPN’s inaugural Bracket Buster Saturday, the Gauchos went bust.
It took 12 hours for the Titans to reach Santa Barbara, yet Detroit cruised into the Thunderdome and dominated the UCSB men’s basketball team within minutes. The Horizon League’s fifth-place team blew out the Big West-leading Gauchos 75-59 on Saturday.
Detroit extended its biggest lead to 18 points, 51-33, on senior guard Willie Green’s traditional three-point play with 14:29 remaining. UCSB used a 24-7 run to cut the lead 58-57 with 7:18 left on junior guard Branduinn Fullove’s free throws.
The Gauchos then hit the red brick wall known as Detroit, ending the game with a 17-2 scamper. UCSB did not sink a single two-point field goal the entire second half and settled for six three-point shots in the final frame.
“At this time in the season, you’re just proud to see your guys respond in that way because you can build on it,” UDM Head Coach Perry Watson said about crushing Santa Barbara’s rally.
Detroit’s defense held UCSB to 34.1 percent shooting while connecting on a sizzling 60 percent from the floor against a Gaucho team that thrives on defense.
While the Gauchos concentrated on shutting down Green, who averaged 28.8 ppg in eight games coming into Saturday, junior guard Rulon Harris picked up the slack. Harris drilled 6-6 shots including a three-pointer for 13 points in the first 20 minutes.
“I thought he was really big,” Watson said. “He had his best half of the season in the first half.”
The Gauchos (13-12) started the night with a smattering of buckets. A driving Fullove passed to sophomore forward Casey Cook, cutting under the basket for a layup. Within the first five minutes, senior forward Mark Hull drove hard to the key for layups.
Hull’s second layup cut the deficit 9-8. Harris, who already hit two jumpers and a three, nailed a running bank shot. Senior forward Terrell Riggs hit a layup and Harris stroked another jump shot. A Hull turnover led to two more free throws by Riggs and a 17-8 lead that silenced the 3,327 T-dome faithful.
Freshman guard Cecil Brown postponed the bleeding with two straight threes in opposite corners. The Titans responded again with a flood of shots and an unrelenting defense that didn’t allow penetration in the key.
“We were more timid,” said Brown, who finished with 10 points. “People were afraid to make plays and we weren’t being aggressive.”
UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams knew that his team needed a dose of toughness and inserted senior guard B.J. Ward at the 10:38 mark. Ward tried to infuse the matchup zone defense while defending Green. However, Ward headed to the locker room three minutes later when stitches opened up under his chin. Ward didn’t return.
“We have to be a little more disciplined, a lot more physical rebounding the ball and more willing to stick our nose in there on people,” Williams said. “Maybe our guys are a little gun-shy since this is the fourth time we’ve had stitches within the week.”
After Green pushed the Titans (14-11) ahead by 18 points, the Gauchos went to a full-court press that rattled Detroit. Brown tried to revive the Gauchos again with his third three-pointer. Overall, the Gauchos made five threes and nine free throws in the run.
The back-breaker came when senior guard Jimmy Twyman hit a 25-foot three with the shot clock winding down, pushing Mercy up 63-57.
“Twyman hit the three and I thought that took a lot of air out of our sails,” Williams said. “We came right down and turned it over and I thought that took more air out of our sails.
“I don’t know if we got a defensive rebound in the last five and half minutes of that game. I thought they just dominated the game on the glass and they were stronger and tougher than we were inside.”
Green continued torching the nets with 24 points including 18 in the second half.
“Once Willie lets the game come to him, he’s good enough to impose his will and I thought in the second half he was really big,” Watson said. “He was really huge for us out there.”