CEDAR CITY, Utah — The postmen don’t always deliver during Christmas rush.
A silent night from UCSB’s usually dependable forwards, ending with Matt Freeman’s missed jumper in the final seconds, led to a 62-61 basketball defeat at Southern Utah on Saturday.
“It was a tough night for Matt and Amadou (Sow),” Gaucho coach Joe Pasternack said. “They carried us last week and today they were 3-for-14 and 0-for-6 from three with five turnovers.
“Not having Max Heidegger, and those two guys not being able to score, made it pretty hard for us.”
Heidegger, an All-Big West Conference guard, missed his third-straight game while in the midst of concussion protocol. The Gauchos (6-4) were still able to ride a five-game winning streak into Cedar City which included last week’s victories at Cal State Bakersfield and Texas Arlington.
They got a good look at six in a row despite trailing by as many as eight points in the second half. UCSB’s last chance came after it forced the Thunderbirds (6-4) into a five-second violation as they were trying to inbound the ball under the Gauchos’ basket with just 3.3 seconds remaining.
“I thought our guys did a nice job at the end, playing a close game the right way, and being able to get a turnover at the end,” Pasternack said. “Robinson (Idehen) did a great job on the ball to get us a five-second count. That was huge.”
Freeman took the Gauchos’ inbounds pass near the left corner and lost his defender at the three-point line. His off-balanced 17-footer along the baseline, however, glanced harmlessly off the side of the backboard.
“We decided to go with Matt Freeman on the last shot,” Pasternack said. “I think he rushed it a little bit. I think he could’ve just taken a one-dribble pull-up — we work on it every day — but he took a runner, a tough shot.
“But we got the ball into the hands of who we wanted to shoot it.”
It was Freeman’s sixth miss in seven attempts. The 6-foot-10 graduate transfer from Oklahoma had shot 51.4% from three in UCSB’s first nine games but he missed all five of his long shots on Saturday. The Gauchos shot just 20% from three as a team (3-for-15) and were out-shot by Southern Utah overall, 45.8% to 39.2%
The Gauchos were carried by their guards. JaQuori McLaughlin scored 11 of his team-high 14 points in the first half. Devearl Ramsey scored all of his 13 in the second half and even scrapped for six rebounds, helping UCSB win the rebound battle 34-26.
“Devearl broke out of his slump and had the best half of his season,” Pasternack said. “Hopefully, that’s a sign of confidence and good things to come.
“When you commit only nine turnovers and out-rebound a team on the road, you think you have a chance. And we had a chance at the end.”
Coach Todd Simon said his Thunderbirds dodged a bullet.
“That’s a well-respected Santa Barbara team,” he said. “They do a good job, they’re older with experienced players and they’re well-coached.
“We knew we’d need every second and every possession to get that one.”
Southern Utah, 4-0 in home games this season, beat Utah Valley last Saturday on John Knight III’s last-second basket. The Utah State transfer was the hero again, converting a three-point play with 52.6 seconds left to break a 58-all tie. He finished with a game-high 19 points.
“John Knight III was a monster,” Pasternack said. “We had nobody who could guard him in transition.”
McLaughlin led UCSB to a 9-6 lead, assisting a dunk by Brandon Cyrus and then scoring back-to-back baskets of his own. They included the Gauchos’ only successful three-point attempt of the first half. They would miss their six other tries.
Sow did convert a three-point play off a reverse layup, keeping UCSB ahead by three, 14-11. But both Sow and Freeman got into early foul trouble. Sow sat out nearly 12 minutes of the first half and Freeman remained benched for 13. UCSB’s lead departed with them.
Sow finished with a season-low six points in 21½ minutes of playing time, although he did grab a team-high seven rebounds.
“They’re long, they’re big — they have a 7-footer and a 6-10,” Pasternack said. “These guys are experienced, older guys. We forget that Amadou is just a sophomore. Sometimes he plays like a senior, but he’s just a sophomore.
“He’ll keep getting better. He’s allowed to have a bad game.”
The Thunderbirds took advantage of a 3½-minute Gaucho drought, seizing a five-point lead on Knight’s jumper. But McLaughlin ended the first half by scoring off a runner to get UCSB to within 32-29.
Both teams shot 48% in the first half, but Southern Utah made two of its three-point attempts to earn its three-point lead.
Ramsey didn’t take a shot in the first half but he keyed a 7-0 Gaucho run to start the second with back-to-back, driving floaters.
“I was just trying to stay aggressive in the flow of the offense, whatever the team needs,” he said.
Sow’s free throw gave the Gauchos their biggest lead, 36-32, with 17:12 to go.
But UCSB missed four of its next five shots including two more threes. The Thunderbirds responded with an 8-2 run, taking a 40-38 lead on Harrison Butler’s jumper.
McLaughlin’s long bomb ended a Gaucho string of nine-straight misses from three. But Southern Utah kept pounding the post with success. Dwayne Morgan’s layup drew Sow’s fourth foul and put the Thunderbirds ahead 50-42 with 8:34 remaining.
Jay Nagle rallied UCSB with a three and four free throws, reducing the deficit to 52-49. He finished with nine points and a season-best five rebounds.
“Jay is a weapon, for sure,” Pasternack said. “What I’m most proud of was his five rebounds. He’s worked really hard this week rebounding the ball.
“I think the four position is solidified with Jay and Matt.”
Ramsey took over from there, scoring consecutive runners and two free throws to knot the score at 58-all with 1:48 left.
“We’re athletic, too — we can get to the basket and score as well as anyone,” he said. “You’ve just got to attack.”
The Gauchos got the ball back with a chance for the lead, but Morgan yanked the ball away from Sow in a double-team. Knight cashed in the opportunity with his driving, three-point play.
Sow missed a runner but UCSB’s defense dug in, forcing Knight into missing a rushed three on the other end.
Southern Utah decided to protect its three-point lead by fouling Ramsey intentionally with 5.5 seconds left. He made the first foul shot but missed the second, and Sow immediately fouled Dauda Ndiaye — his fifth foul — with 4.4 remaining.
Ndiaye, like Ramsey, made the first free throw and missed the second.
The Thunderbirds fouled Ramsey again with 3.3 left, and this time he made both foul shots to draw the Gauchos within a point — and set up the wild finish.
“We really locked in right there,” Ramsey said. “But we’ve got to have that intensity for 40 minutes a game.”