At first blush, San Diego Christian doesn’t seem like too much of a test for the UCSB men’s basketball team. After all, the Hawks are an NAIA team, with a 2-6 record and a handful of losses to teams much worse than the Gauchos.
When the Hawks entered the Thunderdome on Tuesday night, however, they found a UCSB team in a potentially dangerous situation. With the Gauchos only two days removed from a tough, streak-snapping loss to a high-profile USC team, Tuesday’s game was a serious test of UCSB’s mental ability to bounce back from defeat.
Within the first ten minutes, it was clear that the Gauchos were bound to pass with flying colors. UCSB jumped out to a 30-12 lead by the 10:00 mark of the first half, and coasted to an 87-69 win.
Despite playing only 21 minutes, sophomore guard Max Heidegger led all Gaucho scorers with 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting, and knocked down a team-high three three’s. Forwards Jalen Canty (12 points and six rebounds) and Leland King II (11 points and seven rebounds) broke the Hawks down from the inside in similarly limited minutes.
For about four minutes, it seemed as though UCSB had fallen into the trap of overlooking San Diego Christian. The Hawks stayed level with the Gauchos, even taking a 10-8 lead on a pair of Derek Novsek free throws.
Two more Novsek free throws got the Hawks to 12 points, but those free throws came four minutes later, at the 12:13 mark. In the interim, UCSB had jetted off on an 18-0 run to claim a lead they would never relinquish.
Heidegger’s 19 first-half points were key to UCSB’s performance in the first twenty minutes, as the sophomore was twelve points ahead of any other scorer on the floor in the half. Senior guard Gabe Vincent was a strong second option with eight points and three assists in his 13 minutes of first-half action.
The margin stayed about the same from that point until halftime, which the Gauchos went into holding a 50-33 lead. Immediately upon returning from the intermission, however, UCSB broke the game well and truly open.
Playing with primarily second-unit players, the Gauchos extended their lead to 77-44 by about the ten-minute mark. Forward Ami Lakoju was particularly instrumental in UCSB’s second-half dominance, as the junior chipped in 12 points, tied for his career-high, and five rebounds in just 14 minutes of action.
Freshman guard Brandon Davis saw an extra-heavy dose of playing time thanks to the blowout as well as a night off for point guard Marcus Jackson, and Davis responded with a career-high nine points on 4-for-6 shooting.
A 33-point lead with less than ten minutes to go is more or less an unbridgeable chasm of a lead, but the Hawks did their absolute best to string that bridge together. San Diego Christian closed the game on a 23-6 run to bring the deficit back under 20, but was ultimately unable to truly threaten UCSB’s cushion.
San Diego’s Novsek and Frederick Hayden led all scorers with 21 and 22 points, respectively. Both players scored ten points in the second half alone, providing the dual scoring threats the Hawks needed to claw back within 20 points of the Gauchos.
UCSB travels north to take on Sacramento State on Saturday in Sacramento at 7 p.m.