DALLAS – UC Santa Barbara came within an eyelash of completing an incredible comeback and defeating SMU on Monday night, but instead settled for an 80-73 overtime road loss to the Mustangs.
After tying the score at 67 on a three-pointer by Gabe Vincent with just under 10 seconds left, UCSB's Zalmico Harmon rebounded a Mustang miss and took a shot from beyond halfcourt that looked but, but banked off the backboard and hit the front of the rim as the final buzzer sounded, prompting an audible sigh of relief from the sellout crowd of 6,852 at Moody Coliseum.
The Gauchos (4-4) trailed 50-36 when Ryan Manuel made two free throws with 14:53 to play, but battled back with an 18-3 run to take a 54-53 lead on a three-pointer by Michael Bryson with 6:31 left. Bryson, who finished with a game-high 25 points, scored the final eight points of the run.
The advantage see-sawed and UCSB took its final lead, 59-58, when Bryson made another jumper with 4:31 remaining. SMU's Yanick Moreira scored six straight points, including the final two from the free throw line with 1:52 on the clock, forcing the Gauchos to rally again, and rally they did.
Alan Williams, who was double and triple-teamed all night and finished with season-lows of nine points and eight rebounds, tipped-in his own miss to cut the gap to 65-61 with 1:25 to play, but the fouled out 34 second later. After Manuel made 1-of-2 free throws, UCSB got three shots to pull within two and the final attempt did the job.
Vincent missed a deep three-pointer but Bryson came up with the rebound and found T.J. Taylor open for another attempt. Taylor missed, but Harmon chased down the carom and found Taylor again and this time the junior from Oakland didn't miss, burying a long triple from deep in the left corner making it 66-64 with just 21 ticks left.
After trying to steal the inbounds pass, the Gauchos intentionally fouled Manuel and once more, the Mustangs' guard made 1-of-2 from the line, keeping it a one possession game.
UCSB got the ball to Bryson who acted as a decoy and hit Vincent in the left corner. The freshman calmly made the last of his career-high five three-pointers, tying the score at 67 with just under 10 seconds remaining.
"He (Vincent) doesn't even know he's a freshman," head coach Bob Williams said. "He acts like he belongs and he does belong. He's comfortable on a big stage."
SMU's Keith Frazier, who made four threes and finished with 20 points, misfired from above the top of the key, and Harmon corralled the rebound with about three seconds left, raced up the right sideline and launched a shot from just before midcourt. Harmon's long three was right on line, hitting the square behind the basket in the center, but ball deflected off the front of the rim and the game was headed to overtime.
"Boy, that looked pretty close," Coach Williams said. "I was thinking Butler vs. Duke (NCAA Final in 2011). Trust me, that would have made a whole lot more enjoyable evening."
Harmon's close call was just about the Gauchos' last gasp. After a pair of Moreira free throws were answered by a Sam Beeler lay-up on the pick-and-roll, the Mustangs ran off eight points in a row over a 2:30 span to take a commanding 77-69 lead with 1:27 left in the game and UCSB never got closer than six points the rest of the way.
"I have to give a lot of credit to our kids for battling back," Coach Williams said. "We found a way to be effective and claw our way back into the game. I did think we had the momentum going into overtime. To be honest with you, we maybe were a bit too excited going into overtime. You're going to live by the three and die by the three when you play as small as we did and that's obviously what happened."
After rallying on the strength of the three-point shot, Santa Barbara missed all six of its attempts in the OT.
In addition to his game-high 25 points, Bryson had 10 rebounds for the second double-double of his career. Vincent finished with a career-high 15 points, all from three-point range. Taylor had a season-high eight points while Harmon added a season-high eight assists and just one turnover.
SMU had five players in double-figures and outrebounded the Gauchos 44-36. UCSB, however, had a season-low seven turnovers for the second straight game and blocked five shots, three by Alan Williams.
The Gauchos return home to face the University of San Diego on Thursday, Dec. 11 at 7:00 p.m. Plenty of great seats remain available and can be purchased from the Ticket Office in the Intercollegiate Athletics Building on campus, by calling 805-893-UCSB (8272) or online by clicking here.