Move over, Big Shot Bob, Big Shot James is the new basketball hero in Southern California.
With 4.2 seconds remaining on the clock and the game tied at 60, the Gauchos looked to set up a game-winning look for either senior guard Alex Harris or junior forward Chris Devine. With both players covered, the Gauchos swung the ball to sophomore guard James Powell, who drained the game-winning three-pointer as he got knocked to the ground. What followed was a celebration the likes of which hasn’t graced the Thunderdome floor in many years, as elated fans rushed the court to celebrate the Gauchos’ (6-1 overall) 63-60 victory over UNLV (4-2).
“I took one dribble and knew I had to shoot it, so I shot it and I didn’t really even see it go in because I fell on the floor, but I heard the reaction, so that’s when I knew it went in,” Powell said. “I’ve never had an adrenaline rush like that in my life. We needed that win for so many reasons, so it did a lot for us.”
Powell and Harris led the charge in the second half, as UCSB overcame a 10-point halftime deficit after playing its worst half of basketball this season. UCSB shot 20 percent from the field in the first half, including only two-of-11 shooting on three-pointers. The Gauchos had more turnovers than made shots in the first 20 minutes of action, and headed into the locker room looking at a 26-16 deficit. The second half was a completely different story however, as the Gauchos shot 65 percent from the field, and made an astounding 10-of-13 shots from beyond the arc.
“It was just a huge team effort in the second half. That might have been the best basketball we’ve played as a team since I’ve been there,” Harris said. “I’m just really proud of the guys for the way we came out. It was unbelievable. Everybody’s intensity picked up.”
UCSB thrived from beyond the arc in the second half, with Harris, Powell, Devine and sophomore guard Justin Joyner all getting into the action. Joyner hit a couple of huge threes to keep UCSB in the game, and Powell refused to miss, hitting five of the six threes that he took in the second half. Powell finished with 15 points, with 13 of them coming in the last 20 minutes of play.
“It just seemed like he didn’t get nervous at all,” Harris said. “It’s just the confidence catching up to him, and he feels ready to take those big shots and make key plays when you need him to. He’s the man tonight. He’s the big man on campus.”
With NBA scouts from various teams there to watch him play, Harris struggled to get things going in the first half, shooting one-of-eight from the field on a night where the referees refused to send him to the line, even as he was consistently hammered in the lane. The reigning Big West Player of the Week returned to his old form in the second half, making six-of-nine shots en route to a game-high 19 points to go along with seven rebounds. Asked about his performance in front of scouts, Harris responded with the kind of humor that could only be shown after a come-from-behind victory.
“I hope they didn’t come ’til halftime,” Harris said.
Harris was part of one of two huge plays down the stretch, without which UCSB would not have been able to stay in the game. After UCSB came up with a huge defensive stop in the final minute, the Gauchos set up an isolation play for Harris to set him up for a potential game-winning shot. Harris drove left and found himself facing a bevy of Runnin’ Rebels, one of whom blocked his shot. As Harris and a pair of UNLV players fought for the rebound, he came away with the ball and threw it off of a UNLV player and out of bounds, resulting in another possession for the Gauchos. The rest is history, as Powell went on to hit the biggest shot of his career.
“I wasn’t looking for the foul cause I knew they wouldn’t call it, so I just immediately said if I can’t get it up, I need to get the offensive rebound and get us another opportunity,” Harris said. “It was a little bit of fate I guess.”
The other key play came from Devine, who completed an old-fashioned three-point play with just over two minutes remaining to give the Gauchos their first lead since the midway point of the first half. Devine finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.
“I thought Chris Devine’s old-fashioned three was huge,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “That was a big, big play in that game. It was strong and he hit the free throw.”
The official attendance for the game was only 3,438, but the yellow-clad crowd made the Thunderdome reminiscent of the good old days when UCSB and UNLV regularly battled for Big West titles.
“It was the first time in my 10 years that our students avoided our security and rushed the floor and we loved it, we absolutely loved it,” Williams said. “That is the best scene that I’ve seen in the Thunderdome since I’ve been here, and our players loved it, we loved it, and thank you to the student body. It was fun and spontaneous, and these kids deserve that kind of enthusiasm and relationship with our student body.”