Basketball is back in the Thunderdome. In front of a large and eager home crowd, the UCSB men’s basketball team opened its season with a 67-51 exhibition win over visiting San Francisco State Saturday night.
“You don’t really see [crowds] like that in high school,” freshman center Alan Williams said. “The turnout was amazing and you could really feel the Thunderdome rocking again.”
With the Gauchos’ team captain and leading scorer Orlando Johnson sitting out due to an injured Achilles tendon, UCSB marched out a starting five that included two new players — point guard and junior transfer Nate Garth and freshman forward Taran Brown.
“I thought all of our new guys played pretty well,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “It’s nice to see that we can compete when the lights turn on.”
UCSB started the game strong, with a three-pointer from senior guard James Nunnally — a preseason All Big West selection — after senior center Jaimé Serna won the opening tip.
The Gauchos went on a 7-0 run to jump out to an early 17-6 lead behind strong defense. UCSB pulled ahead to 23-10 after a layup by Williams and consecutive buckets from freshman guard John Green. Santa Barbara’s defense was suspect at times throughout the first half, giving S.F. State second chances. The Gauchos were out-rebounded 21 to 13 in the half as the Gators cut the deficit to 30-20 at halftime.
“We are a young, inexperienced team and it showed at times, especially on defense,” Coach Williams said.
UCSB entered the second half sluggishly, giving up eight straight points to a determined S.F. State squad. The third Gator three-pointer of the half brought the score to 32-31, and with just over 16 minutes in the half, Coach Williams had seen enough. Five new subs entered the game and provided the spark that the previously stagnant Gaucho offense needed. A jump shot from sophomore guard Kyle Boswell got a rowdy Thunderdome crowd into the game and put the Gauchos up 37-33.
“Being on the bench, you are always ready to come out and provide that spark to stop the other team’s run,” Boswell said.
With six second-half three-pointers, the Gators kept pace with UCSB, cutting the Gaucho lead to 47-45 with just over nine minutes to play. The Gauchos responded as one of Nunnally’s six assists on the night found senior guard Christian Peterson for a three-point play at the basket. The score sparked an 11-0 run for the Gauchos, and a 20-6 run over the final eight minutes to end the game at 67-51 in favor of UCSB.
Every UCSB player logged at least 10 minutes, including all five freshmen. In his debut, Green — who missed the team’s off-season exhibition tour in Canada with a foot injury — filled up the stat sheet, posting 17 points to go along with nine rebounds on 6-of-9 shooting in only 19 minutes off the bench.
“I was afraid I was going to have to redshirt this year,” Green said. “I am thankful and ready to come in and contribute to do what is best for the team.”
Williams added 10 points and seven rebounds, and Nunnally posted 13 points to go along with a game-high six assists. “It was great to know that my teammates have confidence in me,” Williams said.
An impressive number showed up for the opening game, with 2,343 fans present at first tip-off and many more ushering in before halftime.
“That was a great crowd, especially for an exhibition,” coach Williams said. “I think that was a bigger introductory crowd than maybe all but one game last year.”
As a team, UCSB shot 43.1 percent from the field and limited San Francisco State to 28.3 percent. Despite the low percentage, coach Williams sees the most room for improvement on defense, where the team played in a switching man-to-man scheme for much of the game.
“Defensively, we didn’t even resemble how well we have been playing in practice,” coach Williams said. “Overall, this game doesn’t tell us much — we have confidence in our bench and our new guys to contribute. … It does give us a tremendous number of things to work on.”
UCSB will return to the drawing board in practice this week before opening its regular season at home against Chapman this Friday.