The UC Santa Barbara men’s basketball team was able to dig deep and defeat California State University, Bakersfield in overtime by a score of 66-64 at the Thunderdome after not leading for the majority of their game on Jan. 11. After starting Big West conference play with 3-straight losses, the victory put the Gauchos’ Big West record at 2-3. Junior guard Ajay Mitchell and senior guard Josh Pierre-Louis led the team’s scoring with 22 and 12 points, respectively.

Pierre-Louis dribbles towards the rim. NEXUS FILE PHOTO

In the first half, the Gauchos’ offense left a lot to be desired. Getting good shots was a struggle for UCSB in the period and when they could get open, they missed. Nowhere was this more evident than in the team’s first half 3-point shooting where they went 0-8. Overall, the team shot under 30% in the half. While UCSB struggled, CSUB was able to play their style of basketball. The Roadrunners used stout defense and timely shots to build a lead as high as 10 points. 

“The first half we shot 29% — the lowest of the year,” head coach Joe Pasternack said. “We had a really bad first half and we couldn’t buy a bucket. We couldn’t make a free throw, but this isn’t about offense. This is strictly about every single day, can we get 1% better on defense.”

At the start of the second half, the Gauchos’ shooting struggles continued. Once again, the Roadrunners were able to extend the lead to 10 points. Leading these struggles was junior guard Cole Anderson who started the game 0-5 from behind the arc. However, the Gauchos began to take advantage of their offensive opportunities as Mitchell and the rest of the team began hitting shots. With 4 minutes left, UCSB was able to tie the game. But, CSUB went on a small run to retake the lead. With under a minute left, Anderson began to get hot. The sharpshooter hit 2 shots and gave the Gauchos a lead with a little over a second remaining. After the game, Anderson commented on his hot and cold night.

“That’s honestly what I’ve been dealing with my whole life as a shooter,” Anderson said. “I gotta have the mindset that the next one is going in so I stayed ready and my teammates found me.” 

But, after the huge 3-point shot by Anderson that gave the Gauchos the lead with almost no time left in the game, the team made a costly mistake. The Roadrunners passed the ball to half-court where Mitchell was defending the offensive player. In an awkward position, Mitchell committed a blocking foul and gave CSUB 2 free throws with 0.4 seconds left. If the player taking the free throws hit both of them, it would effectively give Bakersfield the win. The UCSB student section flocked to the baseline and attempted to distract the shooter with yelling and arm waving. The CSUB player hit the first shot but the Gaucho faithful kept up the noise. Miraculously, the second shot rimmed out. The game was headed to overtime after a crazy turn of events. 

“I didn’t want to take a charge at all,” Mitchell said. “I kinda was right there and I was like, ‘Damn, I messed up.’ But, after that, I had to bounce back. Thank God he missed that second free throw and after that, I thought we were back in it.”

When overtime began, the Gauchos’ strong shooting continued. Anderson hit his third straight 3-point attempt and the rest of the team’s ball movement was strong. However, CSUB maintained the pace and had the lead late in the period. On the Gauchos’ final possession, the team was down by 1 point; Mitchell had the ball and drove to the rim. At the last second, Mitchell passed the ball to freshman guard Jason Fontenet II who had yet to hit a shot all night. In an unbelievable moment, Fontenet II was fouled on his attempt and made the shot go up by 1. The freshman made his free throw and the Roadrunners missed their half-court heave. The Gauchos escaped with a 2-point overtime victory.

“Jason did not have a good game,” Pasternack said. “I had to sit him because he wasn’t very good and I told him that. The fact he was able to sit on the bench and then be able to respond in that moment was huge for him.”

The Gauchos will now look to build on their success and string together wins after a slow start to conference play. The team now sits at No. 5 in the Big West conference.

A version of this article appeared on p. 10 of the Jan. 18, 2024, print edition of the Daily Nexus.