They were playing on the road, getting worked on the glass and couldn’t buy a bucket from beyond the arc, but in the end, none of this even mattered. Led by a combined 36 points and 15 rebounds from sophomore swingmen James Nunnally and Orlando Johnson, the first-place Gauchos (15-8 overall, 10-3 Big West) pulled out a 73-65 win over third-place Cal State Fullerton (13-2, 7-6) in a back-and-forth battle last night.
“We had a good team effort all the way through,” Nunnally said. “Everybody was on point and stepped it up in the second half.”
Leading by one after a first half where they were outrebounded 21-9, UCSB upped its effort in tracking down CSUF misses in the second half.
“In the first half we weren’t very physical, but we picked it up after [Head Coach Bob Williams] got into us and let us know that we couldn’t win with what we were doing on the boards,” Johnson said.
Paired with its usual reliable defense and a renewed emphasis on taking care of the ball, the road team maintained a slim lead as the second half wore on, despite heavy pressure from an aggressive Titan squad.
“They tried to out-physical us but we took care of the ball and stayed solid on defense,” senior guard James Powell said.
With the home crowd behind them, the Titans made a push midway through the second half, taking the lead with a dunk and extending their advantage to five after a made three. Down but not out, the Gauchos pushed back to tie the game before a three of their own from junior guard Justin Joyner reclaimed the lead 60-58 with three minutes to go. Joyner’s long-distance hit marked his first points since coming back from a preseason injury.
“Justin hit a big three for us and that really got us going,” Johnson said.
From that point on, Santa Barbara never looked back. A three-point play by sophomore forward Jaimé Serna with 44 seconds left capped a 7-2 run that essentially iced the game as the score moved to 67-60 in favor of UCSB. Serna finished the game with 13 points, his second straight game in double figures.
“Jaimé is so good, but we haven’t been using him how we should have,” Johnson said. “It’s always to our advantage to force the issue down low.”