It took the UCSB men’s basketball 30 minutes to finally put CSUN away on Saturday night. When it finally did, it did so in a hurry.
The Gauchos rode a 19-1 run over seven minutes in the second half to a 75-51 victory over the Matadors, pushing UCSB to 18-5 this season and 7-2 in the Big West. The win was also the Gauchos’ 11th home victory in a row to open the year, the best home start in school history.
“When Coach (Pasternak) came in, he wanted to establish the Thunderdome as a good home court,” sophomore guard Max Heidegger said. “Hopefully the years will pass and even after we’re gone it’ll still be rocking. We want to create a legacy here, and that’s what Coach [Pasternak] wants to do.”
A 24-point final margin suggests complete dominance, but that certainly wasn’t the case for much of Saturday’s game. UCSB and CSUN traded baskets and stops throughout the first half, which saw six lead changes, and neither team was able to get much going offensively.
The Gauchos shot just 42 percent from the field, and 20 percent from three, in the first 20 minutes. CSUN was even less effective, shooting 31 percent on field goals, a testament to both UCSB’s defense as well as the Matadors’ general inability to put the ball in the basket.
UCSB’s saving grace in that cold first half was their rebounding, which was something of a surprise considering standout big man Jalen Canty’s absence Saturday night due to an indefinite suspension for a violation of team rules. Even without the 6-8 forward averaging 7.8 rebounds per game, the Gauchos were able to turn their 10 first half offensive rebounds into 10 second-chance points.
While CSUN’s shooting problems persisted into the second half, UCSB seemed to find a way to shoot through their problems. The Gauchos rebounded in the last 20 minutes by going 50 percent from the field and 55 percent from three-point land, a major catalyst in their 43-point second half explosion.
“Guys just started hitting shots,” Heidegger said. “[…] We were getting the same quality shots all game, but there was a stretch there when they all just started going down, so that helped us increase the lead.”
Another major catalyst was graduate transfer Leland King II. Playing without his usual frontcourt mate Canty, King was dominant Saturday night with 25 points, tied for his season-high, and 17 rebounds, his season-best outright.
“The greatest rebounder I ever coached was Leon Powe at Cal […] and to me Leland’s a better rebounder than him,” Pasternak said. “[Powe] played for the Boston Celtics. Leland’s ranked number 12th in the country in rebounding […] To me, rebounding translates to the next level. I think he’s a pro, and he showed it tonight.”
King controlled the game from the start, with a 10 point, 13 rebound double-double in the just the first half, but really turned on the offensive jets in the last 20 minutes. It was King that kickstarted UCSB’s game-sealing run with two straight buckets, including a running hook with 9:52 to go that pushed the forward past 1,000 points in his career.
Ami Lakoju was Canty’s replacement as King’s partner in the starting frontcourt, and the 6-8 junior filled in admirably with 10 points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes. It was Lakoju who built on King’s two baskets by outmuscling two CSUN defenders and jamming a putback dunk in over their heads, pushing UCSB’s lead to 12 and electrifying the Thunderdome crowd.
Saturday’s game was particularly special to Lakoju, who was playing in front of his father for just the second time in his college career. The elder Lakoju, a minister and family counselor from Harlem, made the long trip to see his son play, an important boost for the junior.
“It was a blessing to see him here,” Lakoju said. “He kind of surprised me with that visit but nonetheless I’m happy to see him here and for him to see us get two wins.
Point guard Marcus Jackson followed up Lakoju’s dunk with two straight jumpers to stretch the lead to 16 points. Jackson, who has struggled with his shot recently, put up 12 points in the second half alone, an important development for the graduate transfer.
“Marcus has been in kind of a shooting funk, and I wanted to give him some confidence,” Pasternak said. “[…] Sometimes it becomes mind over matter, so I wanted him to shoot. I started calling plays for him to get his confidence going. He hit a couple of shots and hopefully that’ll carry over.”
Jackson had perhaps the team’s most balanced stat line of the night with 12 points, six rebounds and four assists. It was his corner three with 3:48 remaining that put the Gauchos up 68-44 and prompted Pasternak to begin emptying the UCSB bench.
Playing without Canty, the Gauchos went to their bench earlier and more often than usual. Jarriesse Blackmon played 18 high-energy minutes, going 4-7 for eight points and six rebounds, while Christian Terrell dished out six assists without turning the ball over once in his 24 minutes.
“I thought Jarriesse Blackmon gave us incredible energy,” Pasternak said. “To get that kind of contribution from him off the bench was really big for us.”
The strong bench performances allowed Pasternak and his staff to give several starters lighter loads on Saturday. Gabe Vincent played just five minutes in the second half in order to rest a sore calf, and Max Heidegger was able to give his sore back a little bit more of a rest than it got in Thursday’s overtime marathon against Hawaii.
Whatever rest the Gauchos got on Saturday will be especially important come Thursday night, when UCSB travels to UC Davis to play for Big West supremacy. The Aggies pulled out a 105-104 victory over Long Beach State on Saturday night to keep pace with the Gauchos at 7-2, setting up a major clash next week.