The UCSB men’s basketball team has been waiting for things to click all year long.
The Gauchos battled back on Thursday night to squeeze by Cal State Fullerton, 98-95, in double overtime on the road to snap their two-game losing streak. Santa Barbara (14-10 overall, 8-7 in the Big West) reclaimed third place in the Big West and proved to itself that it could pull out a close win, something UCSB has failed to accomplish in three of their last four games. UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams preached all week long that he wanted a close game against the Titans to test his squad for the upcoming Big West Conference Tournament.
“You have to be careful what you wish for, I guess,” Williams said in a post-game interview with KTMS-AM 990. “We actually found a way to win. We made free throws, and that was key.”
The Gauchos worked on their free-throw shooting in practice all week, instituting a drill to get their rhythm and mindset corrected. Santa Barbara drained 32 of 44 shots from the charity stripe, many coming down the stretch to tie the score or extend a lead.
“This could be the turning point,” sophomore guard Cecil Brown said after scoring a career-high 17 points. “We want to go to the tournament prepared and win the Big West Tournament.”
Sophomore forward Cameron Goettsche led five Gauchos who scored in double-figures. The first-year player from Salt Lake Community College dropped 18 points. Junior forward Casey Cook scored 15, senior guard Branduinn Fullove hit 13 and sophomore guard Josh Davis added 12 points for the Gauchos while all of them played with four fouls for much of the second half and the overtime periods.
Down eight points at halftime, the Gauchos found life toward the end of the second half to cut the deficit to just a few points in the waning minutes of regulation. Fullove forced the game into overtime on an offensive tip-in off a missed runner by junior guard Chrismen Oliver with under a minute to play. With the score tied at 72, CSUF freshman guard Bobby Brown tried to wind down the clock for the last shot, but the leading candidate for Big West Freshman of the Year honors couldn’t get off the shot. Brown finished with a game-high 23 points.
In the first overtime, Fullerton lost its best player when senior forward Pape Sow picked up his fifth foul at the start of the extra period. Sow finished with 21 points. Yet the Titans found their way to the free-throw line nearly every possession and built a five-point advantage with 42 seconds to play in regulation.
Senior center Babacar Camera, a native of Senegal and cousin of Sow, missed the free throw on the second end of a three-point play, and senior guard Nick Jones raced down in transition and was fouled in the act of shooting. Down 85-50 with 36 second remaining, Jones, Santa Barbara’s best free-throw shooter this season, missed both free throws, but Goettsche snagged the offensive board and fired home a three-pointer to cut the CSUF lead to two. Immediately following the downtown bomb, senior guard Jacoby Atako stole the in-bounds pass, lunged in to draw the contact and threw the ball up and in to tie the game and go to the line with 27 seconds to play. But Atako missed the would-be game-winning free throw as Fullerton senior guard Anthony Bolton air-balled a three-point attempt at the buzzer. The Gauchos scored five points in just three seconds to force the game to another overtime at 85-85.
In the second overtime, UCSB stormed out of the gate and built a commanding eight-point lead with 2:10 to play. But two quick CSUF field goals and a Brown three-point dagger cut the lead to just one point with under a minute to play. Brown tried a three-pointer that would have given the Titans the lead, but the freshman misfired and Goettsche grabbed the rebound and passed the ball to Fullove, who iced the game with two free throws.
“Coach just keeps telling us to put ourselves in position to make plays,” UCSB’s Brown said. “That’s what college basketball’s all about.”
Oliver and Davis emerged on Thursday night, responding to more minutes and commanding the motion offense. Sophomore guard Joe See sat out the second half with a poked eye and Oliver ran the point, providing a spark off the bench.
“We wanted him to be more aggressive off the dribble, and he really gave us a nice change,” Williams said. “But [Head Coach] Bob Burton really had Fullerton ready to play. We were lucky to be down only eight at halftime.”
The Gauchos will need to tighten up their defense, which allowed Fullerton to beat them down low and in rebounding all night. Santa Barbara heads to face UC Riverside Saturday night at 7.