Thank goodness for the exhibition season.

With less than twenty seconds left in the game, the UCSB men’s basketball team just tied the game against the EA Sports All-Stars on a layup by senior center Adama Ndiaye. Unfortunately, EA Sports had one more bullet in its chamber to shoot the Gauchos down Tuesday night at the Thunderdome.

The top two offensive threats for both squads squared up for the decisive play in the contest. EA Sports’ Jason Crowe calmly settled down his anxious teammates in the final moments. With four seconds remaining, Crowe pulled up to hit a three-pointer from two feet behind the arc in front of sophomore guard Branduinn Fullove for a 78-75 victory.

Though the game was fiercely contested, Santa Barbara hit a lull in the final seven-minute stretch of the first half. After UCSB stormed to an 18-9 lead on a layup by sophomore guard Jacoby Atako with 15:16 left, EA Sports steadily chipped away the Gauchos’ lead. EA spurted to a 43-34 lead heading into the half on Brooklyn McClinn’s trey.

“I saw part of what I wanted in second half, but I hope in the first half our guys will learn from their mistakes,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said. “If we don’t compete or play hard, we’re not going to win basketball games. … We were humbled a little bit.”

The Gauchos were, however, geared up for a more successful run in the second half. UCSB used a 17-3 run to recapture the lead and the momentum away from the All-Stars.

Atako snarled the ball away from an EA defender before he coasted in for a layup and a 50-50 tie with 15:08 left. Seconds later, Ndiaye stole and saved a ball from going out of bounds after Atako made a heads-up play, leaping to swipe the ball away from two dumbfounded EA players. Atako’s hustle led to junior forward Mark Hull’s shot from downtown and a 53-50 lead – the Gauchos’ first lead since 27-26.

“That shot put us up and got us more emotionally pumped up,” Hull said. “It seemed to start something, but we just fell short.”

The preseason game also marked the return of former Gaucho Ray Kelly, but this time for the EA All-Stars. Kelly, who finished the night with 11 points and two steals, suited up for UCSB from 1990-93. The feisty guard owns the school record for 515 assists and 172 steals. Kelly also boasts the record for assists in one season, dishing out 205 in 1992-93 for a 7.1 average.

Kelly is a familiar face to several Gauchos, who have played pickup games with the guard.

“We knew Ray was quick,” Fullove said. “But everyone could have done a better job on defense, with the other four guys rotating to help.”

Fullove and Crowe had nearly identical numbers: both finished with 23 points and six rebounds. Fullove went 5-9 on treys and dished out a game-high five assists. Crowe was 4-9 from out deep and tallied four assists.

Hull finished with 15 points and nine boards. Ndiaye had 13 points and two steals, and senior center Mike Vukovich chipped in eight points and two blocks in 18 minutes. Sophomore guard Nick Jones added nine points off the bench.

The highlight of the first half came on a spectacular play created by redshirt freshman point guard Chrismen Oliver. Oliver, who dished out three assists in five minutes, found Ndiaye with a crisp bounce pass for a monstrous dunk.

“When I drove, [Ndiaye’s] man came to me, and it was kind of luck knowing where my player was going to be,” Oliver said. “I instantly threw him the bounce pass, knowing he was going to be there.”