LONG BEACH — UCSB put Matt Freeman back in the starting lineup on Saturday and he helped the Gauchos get a fresh start of their own in an 87-62 basketball rout at Long Beach State.
The 6-foot-10 graduate transfer scored 24 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the three-point line — both career highs — to help UCSB bounce back from Thursday’s 12-point loss at Cal State Northridge.
Freeman, who made 9-of-11 shots overall, was coming off a career-low zero points and zero-rebounds during 21 minutes off the bench at CSUN.
“Kudos to my staff, they talked me into starting him tonight,” coach Joe Pasternack said. “And man, what an unbelievable performance he had in 19 minutes.”
The Gauchos (14-8, 3-4 Big West Conference) had lost four of their previous five games. The turnaround for both the slumping Freeman and his team came after a phone call to his mother in New Zealand.
“I told her, ‘I’m going to have a big game for you tonight,’” he said “Maybe that played into it a little bit.
“I was more mentally checked into it tonight, was focused, and I knew I had to bring something for my teammates. I didn’t know it was going to be a good shooting night. If anything, I think it started on the defensive end for me.
“And like coach always says, defense leads to offense.”
UCSB also got double-doubles from Amadou Sow (15 points and 14 rebounds) and Max Heidegger (14 points, 11 assists), whose nine rebounds nearly earned him a triple-double.
“We played well together, we shot it well,” Sow said. “The last couple of games that we lost, we only had a couple of assists, and tonight we had 22.
“We really shared the ball. Max had 11 assists — we just shared the ball everywhere.”
The Gauchos out-shot the Beach 45.2% to 36.2% while making a season-high 10 three-pointers in 22 attempts. They also won the rebound battle, 41-32.
“We have talented guys,” Pasternack said. “For the media and the fans, they think it’s just automatic, like you’re going to play well together. But the synergy hasn’t been there.
“We had seven assists against Northridge, three assists against Hawaii — and then we had 22 tonight … That’s how we have to play.”
UCSB also had its best defensive effort since its Big West opener at Cal Poly on Jan. 8. The next five opponents shot a combined 52.5% (138-263) against the Gauchos.
Freeman set the tone by drawing back-to-back charging calls against Long Beach forward Romelle Mansel during the first four minutes.
“That’s what we’ve really been trying to get him to do, become a complete player,” Pasternack said. “When your threes aren’t falling, what else are you giving us? Taking those two charges was huge.”
Chance Hunter did make a trio of three-pointers for the Beach (7-16, 2-5) during the first seven minutes. He finished with 19 points and eight rebounds. But UCSB kept pace with Freeman’s first two threes.
Sow followed with seven straight points during a span of just 2½ minutes.
“Whether it’s the beginning of the game, end of the game, middle of the game — whenever we’re on the court, my guys are always looking for me,” he said.
Sow’s three-point play off a put-back put the Gauchos ahead 15-12 with 12:06 still left in the first half.
UCSB went scoreless during a four-minute stretch in which Long Beach jumped ahead 17-15 on a three-point play by Jordan Roberts. He finished with 18 points and eight rebounds.
A four-point possession, however, put the Gauchos back on top for good. Devearl Ramsey made a free throw and then missed the next, which Freeman tipped back his way. Freeman then raced to the left corner where Ramsey fed him for his third three of the game.
“My teammates found me,” he said. “I don’t remember taking step-back threes, fadeaway threes. If anything, my teammates were getting in there, drawing people, and finding me.”
JaQuori McLaughlin added a fast-break layup and a three off Sow’s kick-out pass to improve UCSB’s lead to 24-19.
The Gauchos missed five of their last six shots of the first half, but Heidegger and Jay Nagle each made a pair of free throws to keep them ahead. Sow’s hook shot off Nagle’s high-post pass gave UCSB a 32-27 lead at the break.
“High-low, that’s the best way for me to score for this team,” Sow said. “They’re always looking for me — Matt Freeman, Jay Nagle, JRoq (McLaughlin), Max, everybody … everybody on the roster was looking for me on that high-low.”
Freeman stayed hot to start the second half, making three more threes and a running hook in the first 2½ minutes. Heidegger assisted one of them and then made a driving pass to Sow for a reverse layup which put the Gauchos’ lead into double-digits, 42-32.
Heidegger’s spirited second half included seven assists, 12 points, and six rebounds.
“Max is an unbelievable passer,” Pasternack said. “It might be the best thing he does. He could get 10 assists every night, he really could.
“I’m just proud of him. He’s been through so, so much. What he’s overcome is unbelievable, for him to be playing his best basketball of his career right now.”
Freeman went to the bench after getting whistled with his fourth foul with 15:28 to go. But UCSB kept building its lead, with Brandon Cyrus’ three-point play off Heidegger’s inbounds pass take it to 50-36.
Long Beach got within 10 points, 57-47, but the Gauchos promptly broke its full-court press for a wide-open three by Heidegger.
Freeman returned after a 10-minute breather and grabbed a loose ball before scoring a floater for a 74-59 lead.
“It was right there, so I grabbed it, threw it up, and it went in,” he said. “So it was a good night.”
All that was left was Heidegger’s quest of becoming only the second Gaucho to ever record a triple-double. Brian Shaw helped upset North Carolina State on Dec. 23, 1987 with 22 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 assists.
UCSB’s coaches yelled out that he needed one more rebound to achieve the feat, but the game’s final shot taken by Long Beach’s Max De Geest bounded well over Heidegger’s head.
Pasternack suggested that the stat crew could have missed one.
“I’d like to re-stat the rebounds,” he said with a smile.
But his team already had a big rebound of its own.