The UCSB men’s basketball team captured its second straight Big West win in the Thunderdome last Thursday night, beating visiting Cal State Fullerton 77-64 in the team’s conference home opener. With the win, the Gauchos improve to 7-5 overall (2-0 Big West) and end Fullerton’s (10-4 overall, 2-1 Big West) seven game win streak.
“It was a good win,” senior forward Christian Peterson said. “We haven’t started conference play in the past strong, so we were trying to come out and get that first home win.”
Santa Barbara came out with a bigger lineup than usual, as freshman center Alan “Big Al” Williams started for the first time this season alongside senior forwards Jaime Serna and James Nunnally, senior guard Orlando Johnson and sophomore guard Kyle Boswell. No point guards were in the starting lineup.
“I really like our big team,” Head Coach Bob Williams said of his lineups. “We are bigger and more physical. We aren’t going to play as fast, but have advantages inside and on the glass.”
UCSB got off to a sluggish start offensively in the first half, though their defense remained stout. The Gauchos took an 18-16 lead on a three-pointer from sophomore forward Keegan Hornbuckle. The shot sparked an 11-0 run for the Gauchos and they entered halftime leading 35-21.
Fullerton battled to come back to a 52-43 score with under 10 minutes left in the second half, but the Gauchos responded. An alley-oop dunk from junior point guard Nate Garth to senior center Greg Somogyi ended that Titan run and put the Gauchos back in control. Up by eight points with just over a minute left, it was Johnson’s turn to ward off a Titan run with six consecutive free throws (10-of-11 on the night). The Gauchos’ lead never dipped below eight as they secured the win 77-64.
“We try to change it up,” Peterson said of the team’s different looks. “We are a very versatile team and can be dangerous when we exploit our lineups against opposing teams.”
Johnson paced the Gauchos with 23 points and six rebounds despite a poor shooting night (5-for-18 on field goals). Nunnally scored 13 of his 18 points in the first half, and Hornbuckle added nine points, five rebounds and two blocks. Garth recorded a game-high five assists.
A scary moment for the Gauchos occurred with 12:10 left in the game when senior forward Jaimé Serna rose up to score on a driving layup and was fouled. Serna fell hard to the floor, landing on, and injuring, his right wrist. Luckily for Santa Barbara, X-rays taken the following day came back negative, and Serna is currently day-to-day.
“I am very pleased with the win,” coach Williams said. “[Fullerton] is a really good team. … Overall, it was a productive night for us.”
UCSB will travel to face UC Riverside on Thursday.