With first place in conference within striking distance, UC Santa Barbara chose to live and die by the three at Cal State Northridge on Saturday. After converting only 10 of a season-high 34 attempts from beyond the arc, the Gauchos (11-8 overall, 6-3 Big West) put their winning ways to rest, succumbing to the Matadors (8-13, 3-5) in a 76-69 defeat.

“We definitely settled [for outside shots],” junior guard Justin Joyner said. “We took too many early threes that we could have had later in the shot clock.”

It was an off night to say the least for a perimeter-happy Santa Barbara squad that hit only one-third of its shots. Even the reliable one-two punch of sophomore swingmen James Nunnally and Orlando Johnson struggled to find their range, going a combined 10-for-29 from the field.

“We took what the defense gave us instead of getting to the basket,” Nunnally said. “You can’t win on the road that way.”

Nunnally finished with 21 points to lead the Gauchos, while Johnson added 20 of his own and a team-high eight rebounds. Senior guard James Powell hit double figures for the second time in his last three games, tallying 13 points, five boards and three assists in an all-around effort.

While their top three scorers paced a struggling offense, the Gauchos’ road woes also showed up on the defensive end. Trailing for most of the second half, UCSB managed to claw back to tie the game at 60 with 3:27 left, but promptly allowed Northridge to bury two straight triples to put it away. The seven-point loss marked only the second time in Big West play that Santa Barbara has allowed its opponent to surpass 70 points.

“We didn’t look as good as we did in our last few home games,” Joyner said. “Moving to a hostile environment isn’t easy, but we have to prove that we can win on the road.”

For a team that remains undefeated (5-0) in conference home games, a return to the Thunderdome would certainly be welcomed. Instead, the Gauchos will continue their northbound swing as they head to Pacific for a Thursday night throwdown between the number one and two teams in the Big West. UCSB held off a late UOP comeback in a 68-67 win when the teams met earlier this season in Santa Barbara.

“We’re both in the hunt for the Big West title,” Nunnally said of his team’s upcoming game. “It’s a must win.”