Gauchos Rally from 17 Down to Stun Bakersfield in OT, 62-60

Max Heidegger (Photo by Eric Isaacs)
Max Heidegger (Photo by Eric Isaacs)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – UC Santa Barbara rallied back from a 17-point second half deficit and overcame another poor shooting night to stun Cal State Bakersfield in overtime 62-60 on Tuesday night.   

The Gauchos (2-9) shot just 25.0% for the game, including a dismal 15.4% in the first half, but on the strength of a 21-point, 16-for-18 free throw performance by freshman guard Max Heidegger, they were able to defeat the Roadrunners (8-6), a team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2016. 

"I am very proud of this group," said head coach Bob Williams. "Even though we were facing some adversity, they never quit playing hard and in the end it paid off." 

UCSB was playing without Jalen Canty, its second leading scorer and leading rebounder, Ami Lakoju, its second leading rebounder and fourth leading scorer, and freshman Felix White, all of who were ineligible after the fall quarter. 

The Gauchos trailed 28-15 at halftime and watched Bakersfield score six of the first eight points in the second half to claim a 34-17 lead. The final 17-point lead came at the 14:08 mark when Taze Moore made 1-of-2 free throws to give his team a 37-20 advantage. 

Santa Barbara's rally started when J.D. Slajchert was fouled while making a layup. He missed the free throw and Roadrunner Matt Smith rebounded it, but Eric Childress came from behind, stole the ball and found Gabe Vincent for a three-pointer from the top of the key. The lead was down to 37-25 with 13:43 to play. 

"That was a huge sequence for us," Williams said. "It gave us a little momentum and helped us realize that we were not out of it." 

Neither team scored again until Smith made a layup with 10:43 left to make it 39-25. The Gauchos then scored the next five points, three from the free throw line by Heidegger and two on a tip-in by Maxwell Kupchak, to cut the lead to 39-30 at the 9:19 mark. It was the first time the lead was below double-digits since the 6:55 mark in the first half. 

Layups by Bakersfield's Jaylin Airington and Dedrick Basile bookended a score by Slajchert to make it 43-34 with 7:34 remaining. 

UCSB used an unlikely 12-2 burst over the next 2:07 to make it a 1-point game, 45-44 with 5:07 on the clock. Heidegger and Childress started the run with back-to-back three-pointers and after a short jumper by Damiyne Durham, Vincent and Tidé Osifeso hit back-to-back threes. 

"That all started because we weren't giving them any second shots in the second half," Williams said. "We changed things up in the second half, pulling our big guys out to get their big guys away from the basket and that made a big difference on both ends of the court. On the defensive end, it didn't allow them to kill us on the boards like they did in the first half and on the offensive end, it allowed us to drive to the basket more without getting our shots blocked." 

Santa Barbara was outrebounded 25-14 in the first half but by the end of the game each team had 44 boards. 

Smith made 1-of-2 free throws for Bakersfield to push the lead back to 46-44, but Heidegger responded again by driving strong to the basket and getting fouled. He made both free throws to tie the score at 46 at the 4:37mark. 

Another free throw by Smith and a short jumper from the middle of the key by Fallou Ndoye gave the Roadrunners a 49-46 edge with just over three minutes to play, but two more Heidegger free throws knocked it down to 49-48. After Ndoye made a short jump hook, Heidegger was at it again, making two more free throws and it was 51-50. 

"To the credit of our other guys, they realized that Max could get to the line almost at will and they just let him go," Williams said. "He's very good at driving to the basket and drawing the contact and tonight we needed him to do just that." 

Ndoye, who finished with 10 points, scored his final two on a slam dunk at the 2:02 mark. On the other end, Heidegger missed an acrobatic layup, but Kupchak was there for the tip-in to pull the Gauchos within 53-52 with 1:41 left. Kupchak then fouled Dedrick Basile, but the Bakersfield guard missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw situation. Slajchert rebounded the miss and got the ball to Heidegger who was once again fouled while going to the basket and, once more, he made both free throws to give his team its first lead of the game, 54-53 with 1:03 to play. 

With 39 seconds left, Ndoye was fouled by Alex Hart, but he missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and it was time for Heidegger to get fouled again and make both free throws, giving UCSB a 56-53 advantage with 18 second left. 

Following a timeout, Bakersfield ran a play for Damiyne Durham, its top three-point shooter, and he responded with a long three from well above the top of the key, tying the score at 56 with 0:08 left. A long three-point attempt by Vincent missed at the buzzer and the game was headed to overtime. 

Neither team could muster much offense in the overtime. Both teams hit just 1-of-6 shots from the field in the extra period and the first points weren't scored until Heidegger made a floating bank shot with 1:24 left to give the Gauchos a 58-56 lead. Moore responded for the Roadrunners with a jumper of his own to tie it at 58 with 1:11 remaining. 

Alex Hart broke the deadlock by making 1-of-2 free throws. Childress then blocked a three-point attempt by Brent Wrapp, Slajchert came up with the ball, got it to Heidegger and the freshman was fouled again, making both free throws to boost the lead to 61-58 with 18 second left. 

Wrapp was fouled going to the basket for Bakersfield and he hit a pair of free throws with 0:08 on the clock. Heidegger was fouled on the inbounds, but this time he missed the first free throw before making the second to give UCSB a 62-60 lead with seven seconds to play. The Roadrunners turned the ball over on the inbounds and it was recovered by Gaucho freshman Christian Terrell, who was fouled. He missed both free throws, but the visitors missed a desperation three as time ran out and the improbable comeback was complete. 

"This was the first time this season that you really felt the energy and electricity in our locker room after the game," Sljchert said. "It was a great feeling." 

Despite making just 2-of-12 shots from the field, Heidegger finished with a game-high 21 points. Vincent added 10 points and a career-high nine rebounds. Childress made 3-of-4 three-point attempts, had nine points, five assists and four steals. Kupchak scored a season-high six points and tied his career-high with eight rebounds. Slajchert had six points and seven rebounds. 

The Roadrunners were led by Smith who had 17 points and eight rebounds. Fallou added eight rebounds to go with his 10 points and Durham, who made seven three-point baskets when the teams met on Nov. 19 in Bakersfield, had 12 points but made just 2-of-9 from outside the arc. 

UCSB remains at home to host Seattle University on Friday, Dec. 30 at 7:00 p.m. It will be the Gauchos final non-conference game of the season.