It wasn’t the basketball laugher that UCSB had expected, but Devearl Ramsey and JaQuori McLaughlin were laughing anyway.
The Gauchos’ emotion was more relief than levity when Ramsey, who had missed his first six shots on Saturday night, hit two clutch three-pointers down the stretch to rally the Gauchos to a 65-61 men’s basketball victory over Cal State Fullerton.
“He said, ‘Finally!’” McLaughlin said of Ramsey’s first, game-tying three, “and we both started laughing a bit.”
McLaughlin assisted both of the shots, which included a decisive three with just 54.6 seconds remaining, to finish with a double-double of 19 points and 10 assists.
“My coaches and teammates keep telling me to keep shooting the ball,” Ramsey said. “They don’t lose faith in me and they keep feeding me the ball.
“They know I put in the work and that they’ll drop eventually.”
The victory, coming just a day after Friday’s 81-63 rout of Fullerton, looked doubtful after the Titans surged to a 41-27 lead during the opening minutes of the second half. By that time, UCSB (6-3, 2-2 Big West Conference) had made just 11-of-39 shots while missing all 12 of its three-pointers.
The Titans (1-2, 0-2 Big West) were making their own threes (8-for-14, 57.1%) and all of their free throws (19-for-19) to throw a scare into the Gauchos. Dante Maddox Jr. led them with 19 points on 4-for-5 shooting from three.
But UCSB’s defense clamped down hard on Fullerton’s drivers, forcing them into 22 turnovers. McLaughlin had five steals and Ramsey added four.
“I’m just proud of our guys,” coach Joe Pasternack said. “We got down 12, 14 points, and in conference, anybody can beat anybody.
“But we talk about kills — getting three stops in a row is a kill — and we got the most this year with eight. When we get stops, and kills, that gets our offense ignited, and that’s what brought us back.”
Fullerton missed its first five shots and committed three turnovers during the first three minutes. Brandon Cyrus scored back-to-back baskets to give UCSB a quick 6-0 lead.
The Gauchos made six of their first 12 shots, increasing their lead to seven points, 14-7, on Sékou Touré’s fast-break layup off Ramsey’s pass. But they shot just 5-of-22 the rest of the half while missing all 10 of their three-pointers.
“We just couldn’t buy an open shot today,” Pasternack said.
The Titans drove right at UCSB in the first half, drawing enough fouls to shoot 13-for-13 from the free-throw line. They also out-rebounded UCSB’s bigger lineup 21-15 by the half.
Fullerton finished the period on a 20-9 run, starting with back-to-back threes by Dante Maddox and Tray Maddox.
Amadou Sow came alive to score the Gauchos’ last five points of the first half, converting a three-point play off a hook shot and making two more foul shots.
But Dante Maddox beat the halftime buzzer with another three — Fullerton’s fifth in seven attempts — to give his team a 32-27 lead by halftime.
It got worse for UCSB before it got better. It missed its first five shots of the second half including two more three-pointers to fall behind by 14 points. Tray Maddox’s basket put the Titans ahead 41-27 with 15:30 to go.
But Fullerton’s star transfer from Oakland, who scored 27 points on Friday, did not make another basket the rest of the night. He finished with nearly as many turnovers (eight) as points (12).
“We threw three different guys at him,” Pasternack said. “We started with Brandon Cyrus, and then JaQuori guarded him, and then Sékou guarded him. We kept throwing bodies at him.”
McLaughlin, who didn’t attempt a three in the first half, broke the Gauchos’ 0-for-12 streak from distance to trigger a 19-5 run. He also assisted three consecutive baskets on the post — two by Destin Barnes and another by Robinson Idehen — and then stole the ball to set up Touré’s fast-break layup.
“I thought our bench did an outstanding job tonight,” Pasternack said. “Robinson and Destin and Sékou — it was that group that brought us back and got stops.”
McLaughlin added two foul shots to draw UCSB within 44-43. He went 10-for-12 overall from the foul line.
Jalen Harris snapped a 5 1/2 -minute scoreless spell for Fullerton by scoring a runner, but McLaughlin found Ramsey open in the corner and the senior guard swished it to tie the game, 46-all, with 8:42 left.
“It was a relief to see one go in,” Ramsey said. “It was definitely a good feeling, but I knew it would come sooner or later.”
Pasternack had told Ramsey to keep shooting when he was open.
“As the game kept going on, he was 0-for-5, I think, and I said to myself, ‘I can’t believe I told him that,’” he said with a laugh. “But every single time, I had confidence it was going to go in because I watch him every single day of practice.
“He’s a really, really good three-point shooter, but he was just in a slump, like all players get into it. It took a lot of courage to hit those two shots.”
It did take another seven minutes for UCSB to wrest the lead away from the Titans. A three by Josh Hall and a fall-back, three-point play by Dante Maddox got Fullerton’s lead back to five points.
But McLaughlin took over in the last 6:09, scoring nine of his points which included seven free throws. His last two assists set up a dunk by Miles Norris which got the Gauchos within 59-58 with 2:20 to go, and Ramsey’s last three for a 63-59 lead with 54.6 seconds left.
“JaQuori started attacking and getting to the free-throw line, and that really helped in the second half,” Pasternack said.
Hall’s basket with 39.3 seconds left got the Titans within two points, but Ramsey’s two free throws sealed the win with 0.7 on the clock.
“Sometimes it’s good to have a game like this,” Ramsey said, “to come back and show how gritty we can be.”