SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - UC Santa Barbara entered Saturday's game at Cal Poly winless away from home in 2016-17 and the Gauchos made the most of their last opportunity to record a road victory, cruising to a 57-44 decision over the Mustangs.
UCSB (6-22 overall, 4-12 in the Big West) will not play in next weekend's Big West Tournament after the NCAA rescinded the University of Hawaii's postseason ban on Friday. It entered the game with a record of 0-12 in true road games and 0-14 away from home overall.
"We would like to be playing in the tournament next week, but we're not so this was our postseason game," said head coach Bob Williams. "I told them (the players) after the game that not every team gets to end its season on a win. This team never quit and played hard all year. Sometimes that didn't mean a win, but it's nice that tonight it did."
The Gauchos took a 9-8 lead on a running jumper by Eric Childress with 14:59 left in the first half and led the rest of the way. Playing his final game at UCSB, Childress finished with a game-high 19 points. He also had six assists and moved into third on the school's all-time career list with 407.
"When I first heard that we weren't going to the tournament I was disappointed," Childress said. "But I used that to motivate me tonight and it does feel good to end it with a win."
A 3-point basket by Ridge Shipley with 3:54 to play in the first half pulled the Mustangs within 27-23, but neither team would score again as Sant Barbara missed its final eight shots of the half and Cal Poly missed its last six.
"Tonight wasn't always real pretty," Williams said. "But I thought we played really well defensively. We gave them some open looks, but overall we did a good job."
The Mustangs scored two of the first three baskets of the second half and trailed just 29-27 with 16:59 left in the game, but the Gauchos went on a 14-0 run to claim a commanding 43-27 lead at the 12:03 mark. Childress scored eight points during the stretch, including a pair of 3-pointers, while Christian Terrell and Jarriesse Blackmon each made a basket and Alex Hart hit a pair of free throws.
"The end of the first half when they didn't eat into our four-point lead in the last four minutes or so and that big run in the second half decided the game," Williams said. "Eric (Childress) is a senior and he was playing with a lot of confidence tonight. He was a difference-maker."
Cal Poly clawed back to within 49-41 on a jumper just inside the 3-point arc by Donovan Fields with 5:34 remaining. But the teams went through another scoreless stretch that lasted until there was 3:02 remaining, that's when Max Heidegger sank a 3-point basket as the shot clock ticked down, giving UCSB a 52-41 lead.
A free throw by Heidegger and two by Childress extended the lead to 55-41 with 1:17 left. A 3-pointer by Victor Joseph was too little, too late and, fittingly, Childress scored the final points of the game and of his career when he drained two more free throws with just under a minute to play.
It was somewhat ironic that the Gauchos put the game away at the free throw line as they made 5-of-6 in the closing 2:08 of the game. Cal Poly, on the other hand, did not attempt a free throw in the game, a first by a Santa Barbara opponent.
"It was a clean game, but that's pretty amazing," Williams said. "I don't think I've ever coached in a game when a team didn't shoot a free throw."
Heidegger joined Childress in double-figures with 10 points. Blackmon and Clifton Powell each added eight. Alex Hart had just four points, but he also had a game-high 12 rebounds. Fields paced the Mustangs with 10 points and Luke Meikle chipped-in eight.
UCSB made 23-of-59 shots overall, 39.0%, including a solid 10-of-21 in the second half, 47.6%. Cal Poly struggled all night, finishing at 18-of-59 overall, 30.5%, including 9-of-32 in the second half. 28.1%. The Mustangs also made just 8-of-32 3-point attempts, 25.0%, and just 3-of-16 in the second half, 18.8%.
The last time the Gauchos held an opponent to fewer than 44 points in a game was on Nov. 27, 2014 when they defeated Washington State 71-43 at the Great Alaska Shootout.