Long Beach State continued its dominance of the Big West conference Saturday night, as the 49ers (20-7 overall, 13-0 Big West) beat visiting UCSB 70-58. In front of a sold out crowd in The Pyramid, Long Beach improved to 10-0 at home. With the loss, Santa Barbara (15-9, 9-4) falls to third place in the conference and 7-6 on the road this season.
Long Beach is 2-0 against UCSB this season after losing to the Gauchos in each of the past two Big West Tournament Championship games. This marks the second year in a row in which the 49ers have swept the season series against the Gauchos. In a matchup earlier this season, Long Beach handed Santa Barbara a 23-point loss at home.
Senior forward Jaime Serna corralled the opening tip for the Gauchos, and senior guard James Nunnally hit a jumper to give UCSB an early 2-0 lead. Long Beach, behind the home crowd dressed for the whiteout, ran off 11 straight points to take the lead before a Nunnally dunk off a pass from junior guard Nate Garth ended the 49er run.
The Gauchos battled back to cut the deficit to three at 19-22 behind two Nunnally free throws, but Long Beach responded with a run of its own. The 49ers scored 10 of the next 13 points and, behind 11 points in the first half from senior guard Casper Ware and eight steals as a team, headed into the locker room up 32-22.
Down by 13 early in the second half, senior guard Orlando Johnson scored five straight points to bring the Gauchos within single digits with 17 minutes to play. Johnson continued his run by scoring the next four UCSB points, but Long Beach was too much for the Gaucho defense as the 49ers extended their lead to 14 at 48-34 with 12 minutes to play. Long Beach cruised the rest of the way to the win. The 49ers’ largest lead reached 19 points with six minutes remaining, and the closest Santa Barbara got was the final deficit of 12.
Johnson didn’t take his first shot until more than five minutes into the game, and couldn’t find the net early. He shot himself out of an early hole and finished with a game-high 20 points on 8-of-16 shooting. Nunnally added a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
The 49er trio of Ware, senior forward Eugene Phelps and junior guard James Ennis led the way for Long Beach, all scoring in double-figures. The 49ers outshot UCSB from the onset, finishing with a 44.3 shooting percentage compared to the Gauchos’ 35.7.
Long Beach was coming off a loss at Creighton (24-5, 13-4 Missouri Valley), where the Blue Jays knocked off the 49ers on a last second fall-away jumper. The loss was just the team’s first in 12 games dating back to December.
UCSB will play its final three remaining games of the regular season at home in the Thunderdome, beginning this Saturday against Cal Poly.