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UPDATED: Warriors edge UCSB, 77-76, in Big West thriller

This was not a drill.

About 14 hours after a statewide false alarm signaling a ballistic missile attack, Hawai’i withstood a fast and furious comeback attempt by visiting UC Santa Barbara Saturday night to hold on, 77-76, in thrilling Big West Conference men’s basketball action.

A spirited and vocal crowd of 5,719 at the Stan Sheriff Center watched Gibson Johnson score 18 points and Brocke Stepteau add 12 points and five assists as the Warriors improved to 12-5 overall, 3-1 in the Big West. The Gauchos fell to 12-5, 1-2. After the first two weeks of Big West games, Hawai’i is in second place, a game behind 4-0 Cal State Fullerton.

Mike Thomas and Sheriff Drammeh each added 11 points for the Warriors, who saw a 55-39 lead early in the second half dwindle down to 64-63 after a driving layup by UCSB’s Gabe Vincent with 4:10 remaining. UH managed to stave off the Gauchos down the stretch, barely enough to make Marcus Jackson’s 3-pointer at the buzzer a moot basket.

“That was a heck of a game, heck of an atmosphere that you want to play in,” Warriors coach Eran Ganot said. “That’s (UCSB) is a heck of a program, we said that coming in, a heck of a team. Joe (Pasternak) has done a great job with them. It was going to be a tough game for 40 (minutes). We were fortunate enough to get a lead, but give them credit for fighting back. And then (same) for our guys for finishing strong. Just really proud of the total effort that went into this, from the guys in our locker room and our fans.”

The first half featured a basket-for-basket shootout in which both teams mostly traded baskets for the first 15 minutes, until Hawai’i finally finished with a 16-8 run capped by Leland Green’s 3-pointer from the left corner to give the Warriors a 42-33 lead at the break.

UH then stretched the lead to 55-39 after an 11-3 run capped by Johnson’s layup off Stepteau’s assist with 15:45 remaining. But UCSB — highlighted by Max Heidegger’s floating bank shot followed by three consecutive 3-pointers — chipped away and eventually drew to 64-63 after an 11-5 surge culminating in Vincent’s driving layup with 4:10 left.

Heidegger, a crafty and relentless 6-foot-2 sophomore, had a quiet first half with just three points and two charges in 13 minutes. But he caught fire in the second half, just when the Warriors appeared to be coasting to victory leading 55-39. Heidegger started the comeback with a floating bank shot from the left side, then hit three straight 3-pointers — one each from the right wing, left corner and then a deep launch from well beyond the top of the key just before the shot clock was about to expire.

“Those were some crazy shots he was hitting, I mean he’s a good player,” said Thomas, who has watched Heidegger since their playing days as youth in Southern California. “I’ve seen him play for almost 10 years now. When I was a freshman in high school, he put up like 72 (points) against a JV team, and he was like, 12 years old. That kid is special.”

Ganot said he did not expect his team to completely shut down Heidegger, but he did want the points to be earned.

“You’re not going to take some of these guys out (of the offense),” Ganot said. “This team has a lot of depth there — when Gabe Vincent is your third or fourth-leading scorer, you’re pretty good, and that’s why they’re the best offensive team in our league, coming in. And when you have an inside-outside attack, they have some guys inside who are real threats. You want to bring support, (but) they’ve got shooting. But those kind of guys (like Heidegger), you want to make them work for everything. One of the things we’ve done is make them shoot tough percentages.

“But also, what a credit to him, what a great worker. Obviously he loves the game, he works on his game … look at the jump he’s made — you might not see a bigger jump in the country than what he’s made from his freshman year. And you can see how potent he can be when you can do a good job on him for 25 minutes and then he can light it up in five. He had some scramble, gather-the-ball-then-fire (shots). You gotta respect his work ethic, obviously he’s a worker.”

Drew Buggs appeared to seal the victory when he buried a 3-pointer from the right corner to put the Warriors up, 72-65, with 50 seconds showing on the clock, but Heidegger answered with three straight free throws seven seconds later to close it to 72-68. Heidegger, who finished with a game-high 22 points, later swished a rainbow 25-footer from well beyond the top of the key to close it to 76-73 with 9.2 ticks remaining.

After Johnson sank one of two free throws one second later, the Gauchos worked the ball to Marcus Jackson, who drained a 3-pointer from the right corner as time expired.

“(UCSB) is a really good team, we knew when we were clicking on the offensive end that it wasn’t just gonna be easy for us, we knew they were a team that wasn’t going to go away,” said Johnson, who shot 8 for 9 from the field. “I think we just continued to play our game, and fought until we got a victory.”

Both teams struggled from the free throw line, as UCSB went 14 for 23 (60.9 percent) and Hawai’i was only slightly better at 16 of 24 (66.7 percent), including three missed attempts in the final 15 seconds.

“Some highs and lows today — tough start, great finish … and really thankful for our fans, they were tremendous,” Ganot said. “Also appreciative of our guys’ effort, I think this has been the toughest stretch for us (so far) … and our guys did a great job of battling through and finding that second wind.”

Stepteau dislocated a finger on his right (shooting) hand in the second half, but managed to return to the court for the crucial final minutes.

The Warriors will continue their four-game homestand at 7 p.m. Saturday against UC Davis.

CLICK HERE to view boxscore

(Game photos courtesy Brandon Flores / www.brandonfloresphotography.com)

CLICK HERE to view photo gallery

Big West Conference
Saturday’s Results

at Cal State Fullerton 85, UC Davis 70
Long Beach State 75, at UC Riverside 68
UC Irvine 71, at CSUN 54
at Hawai’i 77, UC Santa Barbara 76

8 Comments

  1. Turnstile : 4,401

  2. Wow what a game! When you play as a team and do it well
    It’s a beautiful thing to watch.

    Ucsb is one of the top teams in the conference. I know their
    Record in league play doesn’t show it, but that’s a dangerous
    Team right there.. a lot of firepower.

    Ganot and coaches have done a hell of job.

    Way to go Bows!!

  3. If I was the coach and had a local recruit as talented as Samuta Avea , I think I would find a few minutes in the first half to bring him in every game. . Fans drive down from Kahuku and it must be frustrating not to see your guy in the game.

    Otherwise, the Santa Barbara Game was the best game of the season for the fans, and the coaches and players did a great job. Hopefully we can go foreword on a higher level

  4. ^^^ That is a good question for the coach. What happened to Avea? Maybe he is injured. He was playing a lot more in the games before and looked good in some of the games

  5. I agree! Would like to see Avea more

  6. UCSB is #18 in college insider mid-major poll. Fullerton received 33 votes and UH 2.

  7. ^^^ Looks like that poll doesn’t really keep up with the Big West and maybe just look at the records. UH just beat UCSB! Plus that, Fullerton is the team in first place and being projected for NCAAs by ESPN.

  8. Re: Avea not playing

    Could Ganot be saving him for second half of big west play?

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