In its Big West home opener, the UCSB men’s basketball team extended its unbeaten home streak to six games and picked up its first conference victory with a 77-74 win over Long Beach State.
“Every game is one you have to win in this league,” sophomore forward Chris Devine said. “It’s good to get the win to be up and ready to play the next one.” The Gauchos (6-7 overall, 1-2 in the Big West) were coming off of two conference road losses, pushing their road winless streak to seven games. The 49ers (5-7 overall, 0-1 Big West) kicked off their Big West season against UCSB, recording their fifth straight Thunderdome loss.
“We played well, in spots,” Long Beach Head Coach Larry Reynolds said. “We turned the ball over a little bit too much. You have to give credit to Santa Barbara; they hung in there.”
Santa Barbara played without senior guard and leading scorer Cecil Brown due to a sprained ligament in his left knee. Devine made up for the injury, contributing a game-high 20 points along with six rebounds, while sophomore guard Alex Harris broke out of a slump with 17 points and six boards. Senior guards Joe See and Josh Davis and freshman forward Tom Garlepp each added 11 points to the well-rounded win.
“I kind of expect Devine to come out and have 20 [points] and six [rebounds],” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “But, with Cecil out, we needed Al to hit a few shots and he scored 17, and we needed Josh to hit a few and he had 11.” Although both teams led by as many as six points and shot around 40 percent in the first half, the Gauchos took a 30-28 advantage into the locker room. In the first 20 minutes of the match, the UCSB defense recorded nine steals and forced 12 turnovers while Long Beach – a team that shoots 38.7 percent from three-point range – went cold in the first half, making 3-15 from beyond the arc.
The Gauchos increased their lead at the start of the second half, going on a 12-2 run extending from the 3:08 mark in the first half. With a score of 36-30 early in the half, UCSB never relinquished the lead but also could not stretch its advantage past six points.
The 49ers came dangerously close to taking the win, cutting the Santa Barbara lead to just one point twice in the last 30 seconds of play. The Gauchos held on, making up for their 7-13 performance from the line in the first half by hitting 13 of 18 from the charity stripe down the stretch. With just one minute remaining, Devine, Harris and Garlepp hit nine clutch free throws to secure the win.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of success up here,” Reynolds said. “This one was a close one.”
With their first conference win under their belts, the Gauchos will play their fourth game in eight days tonight, hosting UC Irvine in the Thunderdome at 7.
“[Irvine’s] struggled,” Williams said. “They’ve had some great wins and some bad losses. They have confidence on the road and have done a pretty good job on the road. It’s a really important game for us to even our record in league and prepare to go on the road again.”
The Anteaters (5-8 overall, 1-0 Big West) boast a three-point field goal percentage that ranks them in the top five in the nation, thanks to the perimeter play of senior guards Ross Schraeder and Aaron Fitzgerald. Schraeder, the leading scorer on the team, averages 15.5 points per game.
Students who attend tonight’s game get a chance to win a Porsche Boxster by making a free throw, a three- pointer and a half-court shot in under 25 seconds during a halftime contest.