For the first time since 1988, members of the UCSB men’s basketball team walked off Tarkanian Court at the Thomas & Mack Center on Friday night with the sweet taste of victory. In the narrow 79-76 road win, the Gauchos (3-0 overall) managed to outshoot UNLV in the remaining seconds of the game before Rebel guard Curtis Terry missed a three-point attempt as the clock expired.
Led by senior forward Chris Devine’s game-high 25 points, Santa Barbara was able to hold off the Running Rebels (2-1) for their third straight victory of the season in as many games, their best start since the 1994-1995 season.
“We didn’t go into this game thinking that it wasn’t winnable,” Devine said. “We’re not overly flattered by it, but we’re definitely proud of the win.”
Santa Barbara opened the game stride for stride with the Rebels, trading leads through the first 15 minutes until a three-pointer by senior guard Alex Harris gave the Gauchos a 28-22 lead. Despite grabbing a nine-point lead after a steal by freshman guard Justin Joyner, the Gauchos gave up a pair of three-point shots by forward Gaston Essengue and guard Michael Umeh in the closing minutes as UNLV pulled to within four at halftime.
“I felt like I wasn’t playing well in the first half,” Devine said. “I came out going a thousand miles per hour, but I calmed down quite a bit [in the second half] and I started putting them up.”
After a Devine jumper four seconds into the second half, the Gauchos were able to slowly build upon on their lead for the next 15 minutes until a 10-0 run by UNLV put the Rebels within one, 73-72, with less than two minutes to play.
In the final desperation seconds, the Rebels were forced to foul, resulting in five points from the line for Santa Barbara. In spite of a layup from guard Wink Adams that brought UNLV within one, freshman guard James Powell sunk both of his free throws after being fouled on the inbound play. With eight seconds remaining, UNLV ran the length of the court until Terry airmailed a shot from beyond thirty feet as time expired. The shot missed wide, silencing the home crowd then on its feet.
“I think we did a good job getting [Terry] out beyond his range so that he couldn’t make the shot,” Devine said. “Our defense kept him pretty deep. I think that’s why he shot an air ball.”
The Gauchos, who maintained a 56.3 percent field goal average and a 44.4 percent three-point average on the night, were guided in large part by the play of Devine, Harris and Powell. While Devine was 10 of 15 from the field, Harris hit six of 11 and sank 75 percent of his shots past the three-point line in his third straight game with over 20 points. Powell shot a career-high 17 points, going four of six from the field and hitting 60 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.
Guard Wendell White led UNLV by hitting 11 of 17 from the field and wrestling a game-high 10 rebounds away from the Gauchos. White’s teammate Umeh racked up six three-pointers against the Santa Barbara defense and also sank eight of 14 from the field.
“We outplayed them for a while in the second half and we were very unselfish to create the lead,” Devine said. “Later on we made some ill-advised shots and gave them opportunities that let them back in it, but it shows a lot for us to finish it out, especially with the crowd making it rough.”