It had been three seasons and five straight games that Long Beach State had UCSB’s number. That quickly changed Thursday night as the UCSB men’s basketball team defeated rival Long Beach 64-51 in front of 3,556 fans in an ESPN televised contest.
Defensively, the Gauchos dominated the 49ers, a main reason UCSB was able to snap a five-game losing streak against Long Beach and improve its record to 10-5 overall and 1-1 in the Big West. Long Beach, meanwhile falls to 5-12 overall and 1-2 in conference play.
“The main thing that we’ve been focusing on in practice is playing with an edge and I feel like most of the game tonight we came out and did that,” junior guard Zalmico Harmon said. “That was a big emphasis in practice, focusing on defense. We clamped down. We had a few breakdowns, but for the most part we played pretty well.”
Santa Barbara bounced back from last week’s loss to Cal Poly with an impressive victory against a team it has found little success against since the 2011 Big West Tournament Championship game. The Gauchos held Long Beach to under 30 percent shooting on the night and came out victorious despite committing 19 turnovers.
“It was important for us to get a win at home. We feel like we shouldn’t lose at home in league for the rest of this year,” sophomore forward Mitch Brewe said. “It was tough coming off Cal Poly, we were lackadaisical and it was a tough game. But we rallied around the crowd, our teammates and coaching staff, and we really came out ready to defend our home court.”
Long Beach opened the game with a quick 12-6 lead before UCSB responded with an 11-0 run powered by five straight points from sophomore guard Michael Bryson. The Gauchos would lead for the remainder of the half until Long Beach took a brief 22-21 lead with under four minutes left in the half. Tied at 24 and with the final possession, freshman point guard Eric Childress made a brilliant pass to sophomore forward Sam Beeler who slammed the ball home a second before the halftime buzzer to give UCSB a 26-24 lead at the break.
A quick 9-0 start to the second half stretched the Gaucho lead and UCSB continued to push the 49ers, eventually building a 50-31 lead with just under nine minutes remaining in the contest. Long Beach would rally to as close as eight points with over four minutes left to play by forcing numerous turnovers, but the Gauchos quickly shut the door on any comeback hopes.
Bryson twice drove baseline and dunked the ball over Long Beach defenders, sandwiching a Sportscenter worthy dunk by sophomore forward Taran Brown that put the game away for UCSB.
“I was really happy with the fact that there was some aggressive straight line drives by Michael and Taran, that [Zalmico] was more aggressive,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “[I was happy] everybody else on the team felt the need to step up and be more of a weapon offensively because we put too much on pressure on Al when we don’t.”
Junior center Alan Williams who entered the game third in the nation averaging over 24 points per game was held to 12 points in the contest, his second fewest this season. Despite Williams’s lack of scoring, the big man still managed to pull down 15 rebounds, improving his pre-game average of 11.1 per game which ranked sixth in the nation.
Bryson finished the contest with a team-high 13 points to go along with nine rebounds for the Gauchos. Brewe, meanwhile, registered a career-high 12 points and finished 2-2 from behind the three-point line, a recent addition to the power forward’s game.
“It was important that we had other players make plays,” Coach Williams said. “I think what Long Beach watched was the Cal Poly game where other players didn’t make plays and Al had to carry the load with 33 and 15. What I liked best is Al only gets 12 tonight but he has 15 rebounds again. He stayed after it.”
Point guard play was certainly a factor in this game as junior guard Zalmico Harmon scored seven points to go along with a game-high nine assists for the Gauchos. Long Beach junior point guard Michael Caffey led the team with 21 points but his impact was matched by Harmon’s intensity on the floor.
“I thought Z was very aggressive and we addressed that and asked him to raise his aggression level. Z has been good as an assist to turnover guy on the year,” Coach Williams said. “For us, the idea that Z was aggressive, that Z scored seven points and gets nine assists, those are good numbers.”
Junior guard Kyle Boswell finished with eight points and shot 2-5 from behind the arc, while Brown scored six points and pulled down four rebounds.
Despite turning the ball over 12 more times than Long Beach, the Gauchos were efficient with the shot opportunities they had, shooting over 50 percent for the game and 40 percent from the three.
Long Beach finished 5-27 from three-point land as only one 49er finished the game in double-digit scoring. The 49ers struggled against Santa Barbara’s zone defense as the Gauchos closed down on shooters and forced Long Beach to take plenty of contested outside jumpers.
“The zone really affected them. The rotations we’ve been working on constantly in practice really came into play in that game,” Brewe said. “And you won’t see a Long Beach team shoot 30 percent very often.”
Thursday’s victory ended a three-game homestand for UCSB in which the Gauchos twice saw large crowds support the team. UCSB will miss the comforts of the Thunderdome as it now embarks on a three-game road trip.
“It was good for the fans too because they always show great support,” Harmon said. “It was good to get them a win, and get everybody back in the swing of things and show everybody we are the team that we know we are.”
UCSB next travels to face Cal State Northridge on Saturday for a 7:30 p.m. contest that will be televised live on Fox Sports Prime Ticket.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of The Daily Nexus.