Led by its two senior captains, the UCSB men’s basketball team beat Utah State on the road Saturday night 72-64 in a nationally televised ESPNU BracketBuster matchup. Forward James Nunnally posted a double-double with 24 points and 11 rebounds and guard Orlando Johnson added 22 points as the Gauchos handed the Aggies a rare home loss.
“It shows great progress,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “It helps with our confidence, and a good win like that definitely makes the road trip more enjoyable.”
With the win, Santa Barbara improves to 15-8 overall and 9-3 in the Big West. Utah State falls to 14-4 and 5-6 in the WAC. The UCSB win snapped a six-game skid against Utah State in the series and handed the Aggies the team’s sixth loss in its last 101 home games.
With starting freshman center Alan Williams battling early foul trouble on his way to playing just six minutes in the game, senior forward Christian Peterson played 21 minutes, matching his career-high of eight points and his season-high of four rebounds.
“Christian [Peterson] played excellent up there,” Williams said. “He defended hard, played hard and he gave us a really nice lift off the bench, playing with great confidence and intensity.”
The Gauchos shot the ball well all evening, finishing with a 53.2 field goal percentage, including eight of 15 on three-pointers. Utah State’s leading scorer, sophomore guard Preston Medlin, was held to 14 points on just 3 of 11 shooting.
Nunnally took over for the Gauchos in the first half, hitting a three and driving for a layup to give UCSB the lead at 28-23 before two free throws from Johnson extended the lead to 30-23 heading into the locker room.
“We need OJ and Nun to both assert themselves offensively like that if we are going to be competitive,” Williams said. “It’s good to see, and it’s what you expect seniors to do.”
Utah State rallied to cut the deficit to as little as four at 56-52 with six minutes to play. UCSB senior forward Jaimé Serna turned the ball over and fouled Utah senior forward Morgan Grim. Upon jumping up from the ground, Grim hovered over Serna and was charged with a technical foul for taunting. Nunnally proceeded to make both foul shots for the Gauchos, and they ran off nine consecutive points to stretch the lead to 65-52. The lead never dipped below eight points, Santa Barbara’s margin of victory at 72-64.
Next up for the Gauchos is a looming trip to Long Beach State on Wednesday for a nationally televised matchup on ESPN2. Long Beach is currently undefeated in the Big West and beat UCSB earlier this season by 23 points.
“We definitely would love to keep this momentum going into Long Beach,” Williams said. “We have a big challenge to finish off our last road trip.”