On Friday night in the Thunderdome, the opening tip went up for grabs and the UCSB men’s basketball team caught fire offensively. Behind a lights-out 58 percent shooting performance, the Gauchos opened the 2011-2012 season with a convincing 74-48 win over visiting Chapman University.
“I liked our energy and our sense of urgency,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “I do feel like there are still so many areas to improve on.”
Santa Barbara took advantage of the less experienced Division III Chapman squad, never trailing the Panthers in the game. Senior forward James Nunnally went 9-for-12 from the field to lead the squad with 20 points, 14 coming after halftime. Senior guard Orlando Johnson, who rested an Achilles injury in the team’s exhibition opener last weekend, scored 14, and sophomore guard Kyle Boswell hit 3-of-4 from three to add a career-high 11 points.
“Nunnally was sensational,” Williams said. “He was patient, passed well, shot well and every time he was double-teamed, he made the right decision.”
Up 23-14 with just over seven minutes in the first half, the Gauchos went on an 11-3 run. Chapman was able to cut the deficit to 34-22 at halftime.
Chapman hung around for a time in the second half, and a Panther three-pointer with 13 minutes left in the second half cut the deficit to nine at 45-36. Then Nunnally took over, scoring five straight points and 10 of the team’s next 13 to help stretch the Gaucho lead to 62-42 with 5:36 left to play. The run was highlighted by a play in which freshman guard T.J. Taylor stole the ball then threw an alley-oop that Nunnally slammed home with 9:18 left in the second half.
“Running down the court, I saw T.J. and we had a little connection,” Nunnally said. “I knew he was going to throw it and I went up and got it, and got the crowd going behind us.”
UCSB cruised the rest of the way, finishing off Chapman by a score of 74-48. The Gauchos shot 60.9 percent from the field and 75 percent (6-of-8) from beyond the arc in the second half.
“It was a great start,” Nunnally said. “We are going to continue to get better every time we step out on the court.”
Santa Barbara got great play from its backcourt. Taylor and junior point guard Nate Garth each played 21 minutes and combined for seven points, 10 assists and no turnovers. As a team, UCSB had only seven turnovers to go along with 20 assists.
“Both [of our point guards] will do nothing but get better as the year goes on,” Williams said. “They have contrasting styles that will both be effective, and are a great twosome for us.”
UCSB returns to the court Tuesday night when the team hosts Santa Clara in the Thunderdome, the second of six straight home nonconference games to begin the season.