BAKERSFIELD — Freeman the Three-man showed that he can do more than just shoot from distance.
The last eight seconds were enough time for Matt Freeman to make four clutch free throws and wrestle for a crucial rebound that gave UCSB a hard-fought, 64-60 basketball victory at Cal State Bakersfield on Tuesday.
“He wants to be a pro some day and get paid to play the game of basketball, and he knows he can’t be just a three-point shooter,” Gaucho coach Joe Pasternack said. “He has to become complete player … and I think that’s why he left Oklahoma and came to Santa Barbara.”
Freeman, a 6-foot-10 graduate transfer, led UCSB with 19 points, making 4-of-5 three-pointers and 7-of-8 free throws.
The win was the fourth in a row for the Gauchos (5-3) and it halted a modest two-game winning streak for Bakersfield (4-6).
“This is a huge step for us,” Freeman said. “I’m proud of my guys that we came out on top. It was a hard-fought battle and it’s our first road win of the season.
“It’s a tough place to play. They had the white-out and a lot of people here, and it was loud.”
They were screaming as Freeman calmly made his last four free throws.
“He wanted the free-throws at the end of the game,” Pasternack said. “I think I know who to go to at the end of the game.”
Both teams sizzled at the start. The Gauchos made eight of their first 13 shots including 4-of-5 from three-point range. Jay Nagle subbed in for Freeman and drilled consecutive bombs to help erase an early six-point lead for Bakersfield.
Neither team would ever lead by more than that.
“Those were huge threes for us,” Pasternack said. “From a three-point shooting standpoint, we’re great at the four position.”
The Roadrunners jumped back ahead by making 7-of-10 shots which included 4-of-6 from distance during the first 10 minutes. A corner jumper by Greg Lee put Bakersfield ahead 23-20.
But the defenses for both teams soon locked in. UCSB missed 11 of its next 13 shots, settling for eight threes and making just one—Freeman’s step-back bomb off an inbounds play. It put his team back ahead, 24-22.
The Gauchos, meanwhile, began denying Bakersfield’s dribble-penetration, restricting it to just 4-for-17 shooting in the last 10 minutes of the first half.
“That’s the best thing they do,” Pasternack said. “Two weeks ago, it was the worst thing we did defensively. Give our guys credit, they’ve worked so, so hard at guarding the ball and improving in that area.
“It started last week before the Portland State game and this week they had two days of practice and worked really, really hard at that.”
The Roadrunners shot just 42.3% for the game. UCSB was even worse at 38.5%, but it out-shot them from the three-point line (44.4% to 25.0%) and out-scored them from the free-throw line (16-11).
UCSB got untracked late in the first half on jumpers by Amadou Sow and Brandon Cyrus.
Devearl Ramsey beat the shot clock with a running floater to give the Gauchos a halftime lead of 33-31.
UCSB improved its margin to five points, 42-37, after two whirling drives by Sow and a three by Freeman. Sow finished with 11 points and a team-high eight rebounds, leading UCSB to a 35-32 advantage on the backboards.
“They really compete hard on the boards,” Pasternack said of Bakersfield. “They’re plus-12.8 in each game.
“For us to come in here in this environment — it felt like a conference tournament-type of atmosphere — and out-rebound them 35-32 is a huge part of tonight.”
JaQuori McLaughlin, who was blocked on one drive by the high-leaping Taze Moore, went under him the next time downcourt to convert a runner for a 48-44 lead. McLaughlin finished with 12 points, five rebounds, and three assists while commanding UCSB’s offense in the absence of senior guard Max Heidegger for the second straight game.
“He’s been playing out of his skin lately, opening up the space and distributing,” Freeman said. “I don’t really remember who was throwing me the passes, but I remember I was getting a whole lot of open passes, and that was what led to me getting my 19 points.
“JRoq and everyone are doing a great job of that.”
Ramsey beat the shot clock again, hitting a long three from the top, and Freeman made one off another inbounds play to give UCSB its biggest margin of the game, 54-48, with 7:11 left.
“We try to execute out of a timeout and get our best players the ball, and the play worked tonight,” Pasternack said.
The Gauchos didn’t make another basket after that, missing seven straight shots. But they kept their lead by sinking 10-of-12 free throws in the final 4½ minutes.
Freeman made the biggest two after Bakersfield had rallied to within 59-58 on a reverse layup by Czar Perry with 30.1 seconds remaining. Perry led all scorers with 23 points.
Moore then made a high-leaping steal in the Roadrunners’ full-court press — one of only 11 turnovers UCSB committed against Bakersfield’s pressure — but his mid-key shot in heavy traffic glanced off the rim.
Freeman out-fought a pair of Roadrunners to get his big rebound — his second of the game — with eight seconds to go.
“I didn’t have a lot of rebounds,” Freeman said. “I had one that meant a lot toward the end, but we had a group full of guys who came in tonight and were ready to battle.
“I’m just so proud of my team that they came out and fought and got big-time rebounds all night long.”
He was fouled immediately and then swished both foul shots, giving UCSB a 61-58 lead.
Pasternack had Ramsey foul Perry near midcourt to prevent a game-tying three, and the Roadrunner guard made both free throws with 6.4 on the clock to cut the Gauchos’ lead to one point.
Bakersfield fouled McLaughlin on the ensuing inbounds play with 5.9 remaining, and he made the second of two foul shots for a 62-60 lead.
Robinson Idehen then blocked Perry’s path as he drove down the left sideline, forcing a traveling violation with 2.1 to go.
Freeman called for the inbounds pass and was fouled again.
When the players all lined up for the free throws, he said aloud, “I’ve got this one, guys.”
And once again, he made both foul shots to seal the Gauchos’ victory.
“It’s not undermining my teammates, I have full belief in them to knock down shots,” Freeman said. “But as a leader on the team, and as the senior on the team, I had to take charge and say, ‘Look guys, I’ve got this.’
“That’s just taking on the leadership role and taking my boys home.”