It’s hard to call the fourth leg of a 16-game conference schedule a must-win game, but the UCSB men’s basketball team faced just that on Saturday, when it took a two-game losing streak into Fullerton to play a tough team of Titans.
Led by sophomore guard James Powell and junior forward Chris Devine, the Gauchos (13-4 overall, 2-2 in the Big West) shook off their doldrums and handily defeated the Titans (11-5, 3-1 Big West) 87-72, making a statement to the rest of the Big West Conference in the process. UCSB shot 65 percent from the field and for the most part avoided the momentary lapses of concentration that have plagued the Gauchos in recent weeks.
“Our preparation was really good, and the concentration from minute to minute to minute was better than it’s been,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “We definitely did a better job most of the night of staying in the moment.”
Every single Gaucho who got into the game shot over 50 percent from the field, led by Powell who was eight-for-11 overall and two-of-four from beyond the arc. Powell finished with a game-high 20 points, along with his four rebounds and two assists.
“James [Powell] is so much bigger than their guards that he can just take them into the paint, and he did that well,” Williams said.
Devine did his share of filling up the stat sheet as well, finishing with 18 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals. Senior guard Alex Harris had a season-low 13 points, but sophomore guard Justin Joyner more than picked up the slack with a season-high 13 points on five-of-six shooting. Joyner made all three of his three-point shots, a positive trend for a Gaucho team that made nine-of-15 three-pointers overall. Several Gauchos contributed off the bench, most notably senior forward Nedim Pajevic, who finished with eight points, and junior guard D.J. Posley, who dished out a game-high six assists without turning the ball over.
In addition to their offensive prowess, the Gauchos benefited from the poor shooting night of leading Titan scorer Josh Akognon. The Washington State transfer had been lighting up opponents from beyond the arc, but UCSB held him to a dismal one-for-11 shooting performance on three pointers.
With the victory, the Gauchos are now right in the middle of the pack in the conference standings. UCSB is the only team in the league with a 2-2 record, leaving the preseason favorites two games behind first place Cal State Northridge (12-3, 4-0 Big West). The Gauchos will look to keep the momentum going this Saturday at 7 p.m. when they take on Cal Poly (6-10, 1-3 Big West) in San Luis Obispo. The game is the nightcap of a rare double-header between the rivals, with the women’s teams set to face each other at 4 p.m.