In front of a loud and restless crowd, the UCSB men’s basketball team fell to visiting No. 18 UNLV 94-88 in double overtime in one of the best games at the Thunderdome in recent memory.
“We left everything out there on the court,” senior guard Orlando Johnson said. “I couldn’t be prouder of my team. It’s tough, but going forward we do have confidence because we know we are a really good team.”
36 points and 10 rebounds from Johnson was not enough, as the Runnin’ Rebels outscored the Gauchos 10-4 in the second overtime to secure the road win. Johnson and UNLV forward Mike Moser put on a scoring exhibition, as the sophomore poured in 34 points, going 6-of-9 from three, with 10 rebounds. Heading into the game, Moser was 2-of-17 on the season on three-pointers.
“He and Moser put on quite a show,” Head Coach Bob Williams said of his star senior. “Orlando was a warrior, an absolute warrior.”
The team’s battled back and forth in a low-scoring first half that ended with a 28-27 UCSB lead. UNLV threatened to run away with the game, taking a 57-49 lead after a 12-2 run with seven minutes left to play in the second half. Consecutive three-pointers from senior forward James Nunnally and Johnson brought the Gauchos to within two. The Runnin’ Rebels again held off the home team to take its biggest lead of the game at 69-59 with two minutes left to play after another Moser three, forcing a Gaucho timeout.
“We knew the game was far from over,” Johnson said. “We practice those situations all the time. … We just kept believing in each other.”
UCSB came out of the timeout determined not to go down without a fight, and Johnson took over. He started the comeback with an assist on a layup by senior center Jaime Serna. Johnson then ran off seven consecutive UCSB points to go along with a rebound and a steal to cut the deficit to one point at 68-69 with 17 seconds left. On the ensuing UNLV possession, Nunnally stole the ball and was called for a charge on the fastbreak in a controversial play.
“I thought that first [charge call] was questionable,” Williams said. “It was a tough call, but as a competitor you always want to get those close calls.”
UNLV took a three-point lead after two free throws, and UCSB had the ball under its own basket, down by three with seven seconds left. As expected, the Runnin’ Rebels opted to foul Johnson, sending him to the line down by three with two seconds left. After Johnson hit the first free throw, Williams subbed in seven-footer Greg Somogyi as the UCSB home crowd collectively held its breath.
“It was amazing fan support,” freshman point guard T.J. Taylor said. “It was a great atmosphere to play in, and a really fun game…It is just disappointing that we came up short.”
Johnson intentionally missed the second free throw, and in the scramble for the offensive rebound, Somogyi was able to miraculously corral the ball and toss up a shot, completing the Gaucho comeback to send the game to overtime with zeros on the clock.
“I just tried to shoot it as high as I could, got a lucky bounce, and the big fella caught it and put it in with no time left on the clock,” Johnson said. “That was a big, exciting moment.”
When the game is on the line, you expect your clutch players to play their best basketball. Johnson and Nunnally stepped up for the Gauchos in the first overtime period. Rejuvenated and excited after Somogyi’s buzzer-beater, the UCSB squad dug in defensively as the senior duo scored 10 points on 3-of-3 shooting and 3-of-3 from the free throw line to put the Gauchos up three with 13 seconds left. Taylor stepped up to hit a huge three-pointer with the game tied to put the gauchos in front at 81-78 with 1:19 left in the overtime period.
“I have to be confident and step up in those situations,” Taylor said. “Orlando and [Nunnally] can’t do it by themselves.”
On the next possession, UNLV recorded an offensive rebound off a potential game tying three-pointer before a second offensive rebound and quick kick-out allowed senior guard Chace Stanback an opportunity at the buzzer. Stanback hit the three as part of his 19 points, all of which came after halftime, to send the game to double overtime.
“It was just desperation man,” the UCLA transfer Stanback said. “Thankfully I was able to hit it.”
Williams explained his rationale behind not opting to foul UNLV to send them to the free throw line at the end of the first overtime.
“Ideally, what we would have loved is to have a foul after that rebound with about four seconds left,” Williams said. “But I wasn’t thinking about fouling with [13 seconds] left.”
In the second overtime period, Serna was called for an intentional foul that gave UNLV a free point with just under five minutes to play. They never trailed again, ending the game 94-88 behind two Stanback free throws. Another questionable offensive foul on Nunnally with just under four minutes left sent the senior to the bench for good with five fouls.
“It hurt not having [Nunnally] out there,” Johnson said. “He is always a threat to score and they would trap me and I would have to pass.”
Nunnally recorded 14 points and 8 rebounds, and senior center Serna added 13 points and six boards. Anthony Marshall recorded a game-high eight assists for the Runnin’ Rebels, and Stanback went 9-of-10 from the free throw line for his 19 points.
The Runnin’ Rebels previously upset No. 1 North Carolina in Las Vegas 90-80. In that game, Stanback led UNLV with 28 points and 10 rebounds, and Moser with 18 rebounds, and Bellfield with 9 assists.
“I’ve got to give UNLV a ton of credit,” Williams said. “They were outstanding defensively. That’s the best defensive team we’ve played by far.”
This marks the second consecutive game that the Gauchos have lost in overtime to a visiting Mountain West school. On Saturday night, UCSB fell to SDSU 76-75 in overtime. While the past two games are certainly tough to swallow for the veteran Gaucho squad, the team has some perspective going forward.
“It’s just tough to swallow, those games like that,” Johnson said. “We will just build on this, that’s all we can do…We can’t sit here and sulk, it was tough and it hurts, but tomorrow we are going to have to forget about it, and get back to studying for finals and getting ready for this roadtrip we got ahead of us.”
UCSB will hit the road for a four-game roadtrip against San Diego, Washington, BYU, and Cal that begins in San Diego on Dec 13.