One-point losses are beginning to be the norm in the Thunderdome.
The UCSB men’s basketball team loss to Eastern Washington 71-70 on Saturday night – the Gauchos’ second straight loss by a single point at home – extending the team’s losing streak to a season-high three games.
Junior guard Alex Harris lead the Gauchos (15-9 overall) with 27 points, but Eagle (13-14) sophomore guard Rodney Stuckey – a projected first-round pick in the NBA draft – scored a game-high 30 points in the victory. Stuckey, the nation’s sixth-leading scorer, was 11-of-25 from the field and scored 21 of his points in the second half.
“We had our best defender on him and he still had a pretty high night offensively,” Harris said. “He finished a few of them through two or three people. He’s a pretty incredible offensive player.”
The teams kept things close throughout the first half and UCSB grabbed a five-point lead at the 1:55 mark when senior forward Glen Turner’s put-back pushed the score to 29-24. But the Eagles closed the half with four straight points and Santa Barbara took a 29-28 lead into the locker room.
Eastern Washington grabbed a 31-29 lead on the first basket of the second half, a three-pointer by freshman guard Michael Taylor. The Gauchos stayed close and were finally able to get over the hump and reclaim the lead with 8:28 remaining on a three from senior guard Cecil Brown.
With the Eagles clinging to a 63-62 lead, Stuckey scored his team’s next six points, helping push the lead to 69-64 with 19 seconds left. Harris hit a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds, but it was not enough as junior forward Kellen Williams sealed the Eagle victory with a pair of free throws with four seconds on the clock.
“[We need to] get stops down the stretch, that’s the biggest thing,” Harris said. “We know it as a team; it’s not something that we’re not trying to do. But for some reason, guys are able to get baskets late.”
The Gauchos were held to 37 percent shooting after firing above 50 percent in the past two games, while Eastern Washington hit 48 percent of its shots. Brown had one of his coldest games of the season, sinking just two of 11 shots from the field. Junior forward Chris Devine tallied 15 points for UCSB and freshman guard James Powell chipped in 13.
The loss drops Santa Barbara’s record to 6-6 at home. With four games remaining, the Gauchos sit in third place in the Big West, but are now only a game ahead of Cal Poly and Pacific for the fifth spot. Only the top four seeds earn a bye in the conference tournament, so a continued slide could spell disaster for the squad.
“It’s too late in the season to lick our wounds,” Turner said. “We know what we need to work on. Getting back into practice and working hard is where our aim is.”
UCSB next takes the floor on Thursday against second-place Cal State Fullerton on the road.