On a night when senior forward Ivan Elliott scored a career-high 22 points, UCSB managed to hold off numerous late-game runs by Cal State Fullerton en route to an 83-80 victory.
Santa Barbara completes the season sweep of the Titans (14-7, 7-3 Big West) and improves to 17-5 overall and 6-3 in the conference. Elliott went 10-of-13 from the field and drained his only three-pointer to give the Gauchos the lead for good after Fullerton had tied the contest at 69.
“Ivan has become such a good outside shooter that it’s kind of like pick your poison,” senior guard Alex Harris said. “So I think they may have prepared for him all week like he was going to be out on the perimeter, and really he got a lot of good inside touches. I think he did a great job of finding the open area inside when the defense helped.”
Harris paced the Gauchos with 24 points, including four-of-six from long range, while sophomore guard James Powell added 14 points and five assists. Three players turned in five assists including senior forward Nedim Pajevic, who contributed nine points and seven rebounds off the bench.
From the opening tip, UCSB came out with all kinds of energy, highlighted by a breakaway dunk by Elliott that put the Gauchos up 6-0. Santa Barbara pushed its advantage to 13 on several occasions, but the Titans used a balanced attack to cut into the lead and go into halftime down by just seven.
Fullerton found its rhythm in the second half, when junior guard Marcus Crenshaw scored 11 of his 23 points in a stretch where the Titans came within just one point of UCSB. The score was deadlocked after senior forward Scott Cutley nailed a lay-up, but the Gauchos were nine-of-10 from the free throw line from that point forward and took the win.
“I had tremendous confidence in us from the foul line, and you love the fact that [sophomore guard] Justin Joyner steps up and knocks down two crucial ones,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “And if you send James or Al to the line, they’re going to make their shots in the gut of the game.”
With UCSB’s victory and Pacific’s overtime win against Cal State Northridge, the Gauchos are now one game out first place.
“You definitely feel better afterward, because when you have to earn the win in crunch minutes, that’s the true test of a good team,” Harris said. “I think most of the Big West playoff games will come down to the wire like that, so if you can win that last two-minute battle when it’s tied up, it’s really just a two-minute basketball game.”
UC Santa Barbara now carries a three-game win streak into Saturday night’s clash with UC Irvine at 7 p.m.