SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Four players scored in double figures for the UC Santa Barbara men's basketball team to help it earn a hard-fought 82-67 win over Cal State Fullerton, while also avenging its earlier loss to the Titans back on Jan. 24 at Titan Gymnasium.
"We didn't play the right way the first time and this time we wanted to give them our best shot and we really did just that tonight," sophomore guard JaQuari McLaughlin.
With today's 15-point win and Thursday's 18-point win over Hawai'i, this marks the first time this season the Gauchos have won back-to-back league games by double digits.
Additionally, UCSB (19-8, 8-5) is now in sole possession of third place in the Big West following a loss by Hawai'i as well. Santa Barbara is also is just one game behind CSUF (13-14, 9-4) in the standings for the number two seed. There are three games remaining this season.
"A lot of people jumped off the bandwagon after three-straight losses but these guys honored the process this entire week and did a great job of bouncing back," Head Coach Joe Pasternack said. "We do what we do and we have to do it better but we played well tonight but we still have to get better."
The Gauchos were efficient as could be in this one from an offensive perspective shooting 50 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from deep. This marks just the second time this season that UCSB shot 50 percent or better in consecutive games.
Early in the game, both sides were feeling each other out, with UCSB jumping out to an 8-2 lead. Fullerton's guard Kahlil Ahmad, who would finish with 27 points on the night, would drive down the lane and make a layup to cut the lead to 8-4 with 15:48 remaining in the first.
After that layup, UCSB would clamp down defensively and not allow CSUF to score for the next five minutes while simultaneously using a 14-0 run in that time to take a commanding 22-4 lead. In those first 22 points, seven different Gauchos.
Fullerton tried to cut into the lead but a three from sophomore guard JaQuori McLaughlin, a free throw plus another three from junior guard Max Heidegger and a tip-in basket from graduate guard Ar'mond Davis gave the Gauchos their biggest lead of the night, 33-13 with 8:44 remaining in the first half.
From there, however, the Titans gave the Gauchos a game, first using a 13-3 run over the final 8:44 to be down just 10 at the half, 36-26. To start the second half, Ahmad nailed a three and cut the lead back down to single digits for the first time since 15:18 in the first half.
Back to back layups for UCSB pushed the lead back to double digits, but Fullerton continued to fight back, eventually cutting the lead down to as little as three at 53-50 with just over 10 minutes remaining in the game.
However, that would be as low as the lead would get. McLaughlin, who shot 50 percent from three today, would make one of the biggest plays of the ball game as after he missed a three, senior forward Jarriesse Blackmon collected the offensive board, kicked it back out to McLaughlin who went into the corner and knocked down the three ball the second time around.
A free throw, plus a made layup from Sow would push the lead back out to nine. Sow finished with 16 points on the day on just 21 minutes after getting into early foul trouble. Sow is also now 5th all-time among freshmen with 314 points and 170 rebounds
Still, Fullerton kept battling, but Heidegger was there to put them away. The junior guard came alive in the final seven minutes and converted a huge and-one layup with 5:33 to not only get the crowd hyped but also push the lead to 64-55. Heidegger would finish with a team-high 19 points on 5-9 shooting including 2-3 from deep.
"He is an intense competitor and he has been through so much adversity this year that I am just happy for him. He competed tonight at a high level," Pasternack said.
From there, Sow, Heidegger, and McLaughlin combined to score 14 of the team's final 19 points to help push the Gauchos to an impressive double-digit win.
In those final 14, McLaughlin also added a highlight dunk that seemingly put the game out of reach while also exciting everyone at the Thunderdome.
OLÉ, OLÉ, OLÉ!— #BigWestMBB (@BigWestMBB) February 24, 2019
JaQuori McLaughlin (16pts-7ast) puts the #SCTop10 cherry on top of the 82-67 @UCSBbasketball victory over 2nd-place #CSF!
Max Heidegger 19pts
Amadou Sow 16pts
Devearl Ramsey 13pts-6rb-3ast#GoGauchos (8-5) vs #LBSU Thursday, Feb. 28 (7pm PT). #PlayBig pic.twitter.com/3wtEZYNdA2
McLaughlin finished with 16 points and also had a game-high seven assists.
For UCSB, tonight's win was big. Not only did the Gauchos play exceptionally well offensively for the second straight outing but it also has a chance now to catch Fullerton over the last stretch.
Defensively, despite having some lapses, UCSB played well with guard DeVearl Ramsey contributing four steals for the second consecutive night. He would also add in 13 points along with six boards and three assists.
Speaking of boards, the Gauchos dominated the glass outrebounding the Titans 39-24 making them 14-4 when they win the rebounding battle.
UCSB will take on Long Beach State on Thursday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. in what will be the Gauchos final home game of the season.