The UCSB men’s basketball team improved to a perfect 4-0 after an 89-84 victory on the road over Loyola Marymount on Saturday night. The Gauchos were on fire offensively, shooting a stellar 56 percent from the field, including 10-of-16 from behind the arc.
“It was a shootout,” sophomore forward James Nunnally said. “We had to score to win. … That’s the way we play: We look to push the ball and score, off misses or makes.”
The three-point shot has proven to be a lethal weapon for Santa Barbara thus far this season. With several players at different positions able to hit threes, defenders must respect the outside shooting of the Gauchos.
“A lot of shots were put up in the offseason, and it has paid off,” said sophomore guard Orlando Johnson. “Shots are being put up with more confidence, and we are hitting them.”
Santa Barbara got off to a quick start in the first half of Saturday’s game, taking an early 8-2 lead behind three consecutive outside shots. The LMU Lions answered with a 19-8 run to make the score 21-16. The Gauchos would rally to end the first half, running off a 19-10 run of their own, reclaiming the lead heading into halftime, 35-31.
For much of the second half, the two teams traded baskets, with offense trumping defense on both ends of the floor. The UCSB offense was phenomenal, putting up 54 second-half points, but a season high 21 turnovers and recurring defensive lapses allowed the Lions to stick around.
“We kept them in the game with our turnovers,” Nunnally said. “We definitely have to take care of the ball better.”
With the score tied 56-56 with 11:26 remaining, senior guard James Powell hit one of his game-high five three-pointers, giving UCSB a 59-56 lead. After that, UCSB never looked back. Santa Barbara led by as many as 10 points late in the second half, but the Lions battled back and eventually cut the lead to three with 48 seconds left. However, strong late play from the Gauchos, including a 4-for-4 performance from the free throw line in the final 20 seconds, iced the game for good.
“We were put in situations where we had to make shots and free throws, and we were able to come through at the end when we needed to,” Johnson said.
The Gauchos were led by Powell, who filled up the stat sheet with 21 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals on 7-of-10 shooting and 5-of-7 from three-point land. Johnson added 16 points and led the team with eight boards. A transfer from LMU, Johnson traveled to his former school to face his former team for the first time.
“I just wanted it to be another game,” Johnson said. “We are just going out there and playing trying to get the win.”
Nunnally also poured in 16 points and junior forward Sam Phippen tied a career high with 14 points.
Looking ahead, this team is taking the one-game-at-a-time approach. Knowing they are now on everyone’s radar and will be receiving their best shot, the Gauchos must play within themselves.
“Everybody is going to be coming at us,” Nunnally said. “We just have to play our game, and we will be successful.”
Off to its best start since the 2006-2007 season, the Gauchos will look to keep the momentum going on Tuesday night when they play host to Santa Clara at 7 p.m. at the Thunderdome.