UCSB’s first step into the college basketball season was a quick one.
The Gauchos were a driving force in Wednesday’s opener against Jackson State, taking it right at the Tigers for an 83-62 victory at the Thunderdome.
“We’ve been working on a lot of stuff, especially just being able to move,” forward Amadou Sow said. “Coach has been on me about being able to move outside and not be just an inside player.”
Sow had a near-perfect season debut, making all seven of his field goals which included an end-to-end fast break. He also made a three-pointer and sank 5-of-6 free throws to score a game-high 20 points.
Max Heidegger’s 19 points and 17 more from JaQuori McLaughlin also added to Joe Pasternack’s 100th victory as a head college coach.
“We have a lot of chemistry, with guys just hanging out off the court, doing a lot of team bonding this summer,” McLaughlin said, “so it’s going to be a fun year with this group.”
UCSB out-shot the Tigers 59.6 percent to 36.1 and out-rebounded them 41-23. Sow just missed a double-double, grabbing nine rebounds.
“Before every game, the only thing that coach tells me is rebound,” he said. “When I’m on the floor, all I can think about is rebounding, and everything else will take care of itself.”
The Gauchos actually stumbled at the start, committing four turnovers during the first three minutes to fall behind 9-2. They had 10 by halftime and finished with 15 for the game.
“Obviously, we have to clean up some stuff,” Heidegger said. “But it’s good to come out the first day and get a win, and just keep it rolling.”
Tristan Jarrett keyed Jackson State’s quick start by scoring a three-pointer and a pair of runners en route to a 19-point performance.
“We always talk about 10 four-minute wars,” Pasternack said. “You’re not going to beat anybody in the first four minutes … It’s all about 10 four-minute wars doing what we do, and doing it as well as we can.”
UCSB out-scored Jackson State (0-2) 18-4 during the second four-minute segment. Heidegger, Sow and DePaul transfer Brandon Cyrus made consecutive threes during a two-minute drill which gave the Gauchos their first lead at 13-11.
Cyrus came off the bench to get 12 points, four rebounds and three assists.
“He’s a huge part of what we do,” Pasternack said. “His improvement, sitting out a year, has been amazing, especially his shot.
“He plays hard. He’s multiple. He can play the one, the two, the three and the four. Tonight he played all four positions, and it’s very important for us to have that toughness added to our team.”
Heidegger followed Sow’s coast-to-coast layup by scoring UCSB’s next 10 points. It included another three-ball and a runner that he converted into a three-point play.
“It’s a lot better to be playing instead of sitting at home and watching,” said Heidegger, who missed most of last year’s nonconference season with a concussion. “I’m glad to be back with my teammates in the first game and just want to keep that momentum going.”
The Gauchos led by as many as nine points and were still ahead by eight when McLaughlin made a three for his first basket of the season.
He kept UCSB ahead at the half, adding three more field goals including another three in the final three minutes of the period.
“Once I hit my first shot, I was just getting into the game and trying to find my teammates and just being comfortable.”
McLaughlin stirred the Thunderdome crowd of 1,517 when he dunked off an alley-oop pass from Devearl Ramsey — one of the junior point guard’s team-best six assists.
The Tigers, however, sank a trio of threes in the final six minutes of the half, which included Jarrett’s second of the game, to pull within 37-34 at the break.
Venjile Wallis started the second half with a game-tying, three-point play.
But McLaughlin’s step-back three put UCSB back ahead for good.
The second half featured plenty of showtime. They included a couple of vintage Mad Max dashes to the basket.
“Last year I couldn’t do as much of that because of my injuries, but coach talks about it a lot,” Heidegger said. “That’s a point of emphasis because we don’t want to settle. We want to get as many easy shots as we can.”
Backup center Robinson Idehen chipped in with a pair of thunderous dunks which included a put-back which he slammed down in one motion. Idehen finished with eight rebounds, two blocks, and six points in 13.44 minutes.
“With what he did this summer, and while having the best attitude that I’ve ever coached, his improvement has been dramatic,” Pasternack said. “We’ve got to get him more minutes. That’s my job. I’ve got to figure that out.”
Jackson State got to within 47-43 on a jumper by Miles Daniels with 14:42 to go, but a three-point play by McLaughlin triggered a 10-point run that tamed the Tigers for good.