The Blue-Green Rivalry might need a more colorful name.
[media-credit id=20120 align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit] Junior forward James Nunnally hit a running floater off the backboard at the buzzer and junior guard Orlando Johnson scored a game-high 24 points to beat Cal Poly 71-70 on Thursday night at Mott Gymnasium in San Luis Obispo.
“That’s a big shot. That’s a really big shot in our season,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said. “Sometimes you’ve been struggling, [and] all of a sudden you start playing [well]. Hopefully that’s what goes on with us.”
Heading into last night’s game, the Gauchos were coming off a 63-58 road loss to Cal State Fullerton in which the Titans overcame a 23-3 run to beat UCSB 63-58. The team also dropped to 3-3 in conference play, a disappointing start considering UCSB was picked to finish first in the conference by Big West coaches during the preseason.
“We were playing soft [before this game],” Nunnally said. “Tonight is how we’re going to play the rest of the season.”
Before the floater heard around the world, Nunnally was having a mediocre night offensively, finishing with 13 points but shooting 4-11 from the field, missing four of his six three-point attempts and missing three free throws in a game for the first time this season. Coming into yesterday’s game, Nunnally averaged 18.2 points per game and 91 percent from the free throw line.
“I just stayed in the game. I didn’t get frustrated about not getting the ball,” he said. “I just knew I was going to play a role. I didn’t sweat it.”
Nunnally was fouled on a shot attempt with one minute left in the game. Down 67-66, he made his first free throw but missed the second, tying the score with one minute to play. A Cal Poly turnover gave the ball back to the Gauchos, who called a timeout with 47 seconds to play. With 20.7 seconds remaining, Johnson hit a contested jumper at the three-point line to put UCSB up by three, but the referees ruled the shot a two upon review.
With 5.6 seconds to play, Cal Poly guard Shawn Lewis hit a three-pointer of his own to bring the Mustangs up by one. Lewis hit four of seven shots from behind the arc and finished with 20 points. Mustang forward David Hanson — Cal Poly’s leading scorer this season — also finished with 20.
“It was a tough three and it went down for them,” said point guard Justin Joyner, who finished with 12 points after hitting four of five shots and three of four from the three-point line. “But 5.6 seconds for a basketball player is a really long time to score.”
In the final play of the game, Nunnally took the ball out of bounds from the opposite baseline and passed the ball to Joyner, who was double-teamed. Joyner then passed the ball back to Nunnally, who dribbled the ball down the sideline and hit a runner from the right side of the key before the buzzer sounded to win the game, pushing the Gauchos to 4-3 in conference play and tying Fullerton for second place in the Big West behind 8-2 Long Beach State. The 49ers narrowly defeated Pacific 67-66 last night after guard Larry Anderson hit a game-winner with ten seconds to play.
“We all believe in each other,” Johnson said. “[Nunnally] believes in himself. We were telling each other we were going to win this game.”
UCSB shot 50 percent from the field, compared to Cal Poly’s 42 percent. However, the Mustangs shot 50 percent from the three-point line. The team was shooting 28 percent from behind the arc this season.
“If we [didn’t] make a tremendously difficult shot at the end, they win the game from the three-point line,” Williams said. “For us to overcome that is a good win for us.”
The Gauchos received solid minutes from its big men last night. Senior forward Jon Pastorek and junior center Greg Somogyi finished with eight points each. Junior center Jaime Serna played over 30 minutes for the first time since he obtained his hip injury in December, but managed to score four points, grab six rebounds and block two shots.
“The [lineup] I liked best was our big team tonight,” Williams said. “Serna competed really hard. We’re working him back in shape. I find it hard to believe he played 30 minutes.”
UCSB returns home Saturday to play Cal State Northridge (6-13 overall, 3-3 Big West), who beat Cal Poly 80-65 at home in its last game on Jan. 22. Tip off is at 7 p.m. at the Thunderdome.