The No. 5 UCSB men’s basketball team’s hopes of repeating as Big West champions came to a stunning end Friday night at The Dollar Loan Center, as Jadon Jones’ deep buzzer beating three gave Long Beach State a 67-64 win to send the conference’s No. 1 seed to the championship game.
The Gauchos (17-11) held the lead for more than 30 minutes of game time and never trailed by more than three points. They took a 64-60 advantage with 1:23 remaining after four straight points from redshirt junior guard Ajare Sanni.
The Beach (20-11) scored on the next two possessions. Big West Player of the Year Colin Slater knocked down a pair of free throws and LBSU forced a turnover which led to Aboubacar Traore’s game-tying dunk with 36 seconds left.
Freshman guard Ajay Mitchell missed the potential go-ahead jumper with 12 seconds left and Long Beach dribbled the clock down to just 1.3 seconds before calling a timeout.
On the final inbound, the three LBSU players that were closest to the ball were all covered. After setting a screen at the top of the key, Jones popped out late to receive the pass and got a clean look from about 27 feet out, swishing home the final shot of the night.
It was a standout performance for forward Miles Norris, who got UCSB out to a good start scoring 10 of his team-high 15 points (6/14 FG) in the first half. He also led the Gauchos with seven rebounds and was an efficient 3-of-6 from beyond-the-arc.
Starting for the first time since January, Sanni stepped up to match Norris with 15 points of his own. He also had six assists, his most ever in a Gaucho uniform.
On the heels of one of his best performances of the season, senior Amadou Sow was held to five points (2/6 FG) and six boards. He finishes his Gaucho career as the program’s third all-time leading rebounder (860) and tied with Michael Bryson for No. 6 all-time in points (1,620).
Neither team looked particularly sharp off the opening tip, but a Norris block led to a fast break three from Sanni to open the scoring at the 17:31 mark.
Norris added to his strong start with a huge one-handed jam three minutes later, starting a 12-0 UCSB spurt capped by another Sanni triple to give UCSB a 19-10 lead.
Senior forward Jay Nagle provided some good minutes off the bench, stopping an LBSU run with a three of his own and rising high on the defensive glass leading to a Calvin Wishart trey. The Gauchos pushed their lead into double-digits, but the Beach scored the final six points to head into halftime trailing 37-32.
Santa Barbara came out stagnant to start the second half as Long Beach extended to a 14-2 run, taking a 38-37 lead several minutes in.
Sanni made some big plays to swing the momentum back UCSB’s way, taking a charge, beating his man off the dribble for back-to-back layups, stealing an inbound pass and feeding Norris to put the Gauchos up by five.
Colin Slater refused to let the game get away from the Beach, getting to the line with regularity as he put in 22 of his 30 points in the second half alone.
After shooting 50 percent (15/30 FG) from the field and 46.2 percent (6/13 3FG) on threes in the first half, the Gauchos were held to 40.7 percent overall and 1-of-8 (.125) from deep over the final 20 minutes. LBSU scored the final seven points of the game.
UCSB ends the year with a 49.4 team shooting percentage, good for No. 3 in program history.
Forward Robinson Idehen (6 points, 3/4 FG) set the new single-season record connecting on 67.4 percent of his field goal attempts this year. He also finished ninth all-time in blocks (79).
The Gauchos’ +8.0 average scoring margin ranks fourth all-time, while their +4.1 rebounding margin is tied for 10th.
Big West Freshman of the Year Ajay Mitchell made his mark on the UCSB record book as well, finishing sixth in points (312), third in points per game (11.6), second in assists (101) and eighth in field goal percentage (.531) among Gaucho freshmen.
Michael Jorgenson writes about sports for UCSB.