The UCSB men’s basketball team just barely passed its first test of the season, squeaking out a 67-65 win over University of San Diego last night at the Thunderdome.
The Gauchos (2-0 overall) were led by senior guard Cecil Brown, sophomore guard Alex Harris and sophomore forward Chris Devine, who all reached double-digits in points. Harris posted a double-double, scoring 14 points and led the team with 10 boards, all on the defensive end of the court.
“I thought Santa Barbara played a real solid game,” San Diego Head Coach Brad Holland said.
The two squads looked evenly matched before a 17-4 run put UCSB up 21-9 with nine minutes remaining in the half. From there, the Toreros crawled back into the game, closing the gap to two points. Santa Barbara regained a four-point lead and entered the locker room up 36-30.
The Gauchos kicked off the second half on an 8-0 tear extending the lead to their largest of the game at 46-30. San Diego responded, bringing in three players off the bench to spark its offense. Freshman guards Brandon Johnson and Ray Murdock and junior forward Theo White combined for four steals, four assists and six points in the Toreros 22-8 run to cut the lead to two with 7:42 remaining.
“I think they really played well once they got down 16,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said. “The kids that came off the bench really came at us. They changed the game.”
Freshman forward Tom Garlepp gave Santa Barbara renewed energy – dropping a three, grabbing a defensive board and making two free throws in the course of 15 seconds. San Diego, however, answered again with three straight buckets and two Gaucho turnovers to tie the game at 60 with 3:52 left.
“We had a couple of times in the game where we did not play like a veteran team,” Williams said. “The turnovers really changed the momentum. We didn’t handle the pressure very well in the second half.”
Santa Barbara took a 65-62 lead on a layup from Harris and a free throw with 1:25 left. With 30 seconds remaining Brown made the shot of the game, pulling up for a jumper that would prove to be the game winner and give the Gauchos a 67-62 lead.
“We ran the play the wrong way,” Brown said. “I saw a little angle and took it. I like any shot I can get. I never saw a shot I didn’t like.”
The Toreros made a three on their next possession, giving them the chance to win on their final trip down the floor. The Gaucho defense stood the test on the last USD drive, taking the 67-65 win.
Next up, UCSB hits the road for a tough Thanksgiving weekend at defending national champion North Carolina on Friday and at Arizona State on Monday.
“This is probably the best case scenario for us,” Williams said. “We’re 2-0 going on the road to play some quality opponents. This will be good experience for us. We have a lot of growing up to do as a team. This should be a very interesting road trip for us.”