In his first year with the Gauchos, sophomore guard Orlando Johnson has already established himself as one of the premier scorers in the Big West. After last night’s win over Cal State Fullerton, it’s about time to start calling him one of the most clutch players in the conference as well.

Johnson nailed a three-pointer with 3.4 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime, allowing UC Santa Barbara (10-7 overall, 5-2 Big West) to rally back for an 85-80 win in front of 2,222 fans in the Thunderdome.

“That was a big time shot,” senior guard James Powell said of his teammate’s heroics. “[Orlando] gave us a chance to win … he saved us.”

The game-tying shot accounted for three of Johnson’s career-high 27 points, coming only weeks after he hit a go-ahead three with 22 ticks left in a conference clash with UC Riverside. But while O.J.’s grace under pressure came to the home team’s rescue, it came in a game that probably should never have reached OT in the first place.

Shooting at a solid 50 percent clip on the night, UCSB built and maintained a double-digit lead over Fullerton (8-10, 3-4) in the first half, helped in large part by sophomore forward James Nunnally, who finished with a career-high 25 points and 10 rebounds.

“[Nunnally] really wasn’t missing in the first half,” Johnson said. “You couldn’t ask for a better night … he really carried us throughout the course of the game.”

With Nunnally leading the charge, Santa Barbara inflated its lead to 16 with 15 minutes to go in the second half. But from there on out, the Titans began to chip away before taking their first lead of the game with 47 seconds left in regulation.

“We knew that they were eventually going to make some kind of a push,” Powell said. “They got hot, and it really came down to them making their shots when we didn’t.”

Though the Gauchos’ shooting went south down the stretch, everything changed after Johnson extended the game into overtime.

“We came out with new life, new energy, [and] brand new legs,” Powell said. “It was big to have the crowd with us the whole time.”

With the Thunderdome in a ruckus, UCSB let loose a 10-3 run started by their senior leader. Powell, the only Gaucho besides Johnson and Nunnally to reach double figures, striped one from beyond the arc in Santa Barbara’s opening possession before stealing the ball from his man and flying to the hoop for a lay-in.

“It’s James Powell’s court,” Johnson said of the Thunderdome. “He wasn’t going to let us go home with a loss, so we hopped on his back and went for a ride.”
The wild ride ended with a bang, as a Nunnally throw-down with only eight seconds left put the game at its final score, giving the Gauchos their fifth win in six games while protecting their flawless home-court record in conference play.

“That game showed that no lead is safe,” Johnson said. “[Fullerton] came back on us, but the fact that we dug deep and pulled it out shows a lot.”