If this is how wild the crowd becomes after a couple losses, imagine how intense the Thunderdome will be after some wins.

On Friday, the UCSB men’s basketball team hosted #1 North Carolina and walked away matching the line in Vegas with a 84-67 loss. The Gauchos (1-2) had just come off a final minute loss to Utah State Monday, but held tough against the impressive Tar Heels. The final score doesn’t necessarily tell the tale, as Santa Barbara kept UNC within 10 points for most of the match until the visitors walked off with it in the final five minutes.

“I think that they wore us down a little bit there at the end, and D.J. [Posley] didn’t really play too many minutes tonight with a bad cramp, and that really hurts our depth and rotation,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “But, you know, they’re the number one team in the country, they’re awful good and I thought we had some really good moments and we just need to put together a lot more of those good moments to be the type of team we want to be.”

The Gauchos, playing in front of a sold-out crowd of 6,000, were led by freshman forward James Nunnally, who put forth an unbelievable effort with 22 points and seven boards. He shot 8-15 with three of his four attempts from three-point land finding nothing but net.

“It went pretty good,” Nunnally said. “My teammates tried to find me early, and I appreciate that. When I’m coming off the bench, I try to come into the game with energy. What I did today was not try to do too much, and it paid off.”

UCSB found over half of both their points and rebounds from the bench. Nunnally said that a solid
performance is what the team expects from their substitutes.

“That’s what we have to do [as bench players]: Come off the bench with energy and help our starters out,” Nunnally said. “If they’re not feeling it we have to come and light that spark for them.”

Santa Barbara struggled a bit early on, trying to adjust to North Carolina’s three-man press, but kept in it with strong on-the-ball defense to disrupt the slumbering giant of the UNC offense. Down six at the 11:31 mark in the first half, junior forward Jesse Byrd hit a jump hook and a pair of free throws to cut the margin to 18-22. Solid defense forced UNC guard Ty Lawson to throw up a prayer, which Posley collected and sent to junior guard Paul Roemer, who hit a huge trey to put the game at 21-22 with 10:26 to go.

Roemer wasn’t done. After freshman guard Will Brew sunk a free throw a minute later, Roemer drained another triple to give UCSB a 25-22 lead in front of an out-of-control Thunderdome crowd. Next, freshman forward Jaime Serna sent the crowd to the next level of insanity with a huge block on Wayne Ellington, and Serna flipped in a lay-up to give the Gauchos their biggest lead of the match at 27-22. The basket capped off an 11-0 UCSB run that spanned over three minutes. North Carolina Head Coach Roy Williams said that the Gauchos had his squad out of sync.

“During the course of the basketball game, I think both teams had the opportunity to go on runs,” Williams said. “What we want to do is be a little bit more consistent so we don’t allow teams to go 11-0 against us.”

Right after UCSB pulled ahead, North Carolina burst back with an 18-2 run of their own and ended up taking a 45-37 lead into the locker room. UNC was boosted tremendously by the return of forward Tyler Hansbrough, who had 11 points in the opening stanza despite only making a single shot. Byrd and senior forward Chris Devine traded off on coverage of Hansbrough, and the Tar Heel forward got to the line 10 times by the break. Still, Byrd and Devine finished well, as Hansbrough was held to only 13 points off 2-8 shooting.

“Hansbrough is definitely strong, but I thought of him as a human being,” Byrd said. “We know he was Player of the Year last year and he’s going to go to the NBA, but when you’re on that court you cannot concern yourself with that. If you let him get bigger than a human being, then he’s going to dominate you.”

Byrd had another highly efficient night, with 12 points off 4-5 shooting to go with five boards and a pair of steals in just 21 minutes. Byrd has made a point of showcasing his smooth skyhook and said after the game that he is comfortable playing within himself.

“Today I just told myself that I’m just going to try to do the things that are within my game,” Byrd said. “I’m not going to try to be cute, I’m not going to try to be pretty, I’m just going to try and get to my left and right jump hooks and crash the rebounds.”

Devine and junior guard James Powell, the Gauchos’ stars, both had rough shooting nights. Devine was 2-6 for four points, and Powell was 4-16 for nine points and shot a terrible 1-9 from beyond the arc. Despite their shooting woes, they are the leaders of the squad, and Williams asserted that they will be back in full form.

“I guarantee you that James Powell and Chris Devine will play much better than they played tonight,” Williams said. “They are too good of players not to get their games back on track. For James, I think it’s an adjustment. James is trying to become the go-to [shooter] when he’s had [Alex Harris] to go to in the past. He is just trying to find himself right now. You know, sometimes you have to hit the roughest waters right before you hit the smooth seas.”

Santa Barbara started the second half looking very competitive and managed to get back within five at 46-51, but a few solid Tar Heel runs prevented UCSB from ever making a serious stab at the victory. Williams said that those runs showed where his squad needs to improve but felt that they still made a positive showing.

“You have to try to keep reeling them in; you can’t let the game get out of touch,” Williams said. “A couple of times we were in the midst of a really good run, and we got a little overzealous and tried to do a little bit more than we are capable of. From that standpoint, we have a lot of things we can really get better at. From the positive standpoint, once again our freshman aren’t intimidated by the crowd or opponent, and those freshman are going to get better and better as the year goes on.”

Byrd said that the Santa Barbara performance is a huge confidence builder.

“Going into conference, going into our next few games, I can’t even begin to explain how much confidence we have just knowing that we stayed with them and knowing that even though it looked like a 20 point blowout on the paper. If you were here, you know that’s not the case,” Byrd said. “If we can hang with them, no one else in the country can get higher than number one, so I feel like we can hang with anybody.”