SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Since he was hired as UC Santa Barbara's head basketball coach in April, Joe Pasternack has repeatedly stated a very specific mantra: Honor the process.
In his team's regular season debut on Saturday afternoon at the Thunderdome, Pasternack and the Gauchos were rewarded for honoring the process with an 85-66 win over North Dakota State.
Sophomore Max Heidegger scored 33 points and fell one three-point basket short of tying the school record, Leland King II flirted with a double-double collecting 23 points and nine rebounds, and Gabe Vincent passed off for a career-high eight assists in his first regular season action since early-February, to lead UCSB.
"Since the day I first met with the team we have talked about honoring the process," Pasternack said. "Today these guys were rewarded with the fruits of that. This was a result of putting the time in, always working and playing hard, and understanding that if you honor the process the results will take care of themselves."
Of all the Gauchos, Heidegger seems to have transformed his game the most. After battling shooting struggles his entire freshman season, he began his second campaign by making 6-of-9 threes and scoring 26 points in an exhibition win over Fresno Pacific. On Saturday he proved that performance was no fluke as he made 8-of-14 three-pointers, 10-of-19 from the field overall and all five of his free throws to finish with a career-high 33 points. Starting at the point in place of an injured Marcus Jackson, he also had three assists and no turnovers.
"I've worked really, really hard since Coach got here," Heidegger said. "Today was fun. Early on, I was trying to get other guys involved and to find the open man, but then I started getting opportunities to shoot and things just started falling."
Heidegger's eight threes were one short of the UCSB record of nine held jointly by Brian Johnson (1984-88) and Michael Bryson (2012-16).
"Since we started practice on August 28, nobody has worked harder than Max," Pasternack said. "What we saw today were the results of a guy who took 500 shots a day during the summer and transformed his body. I'm so happy for him."
Heidegger's first points and three-pointer of the game came with 13:50 left in the first half and gave the Gauchos a 13-10 lead. The game was still tied at 28 apiece when King, a graduate transfer from Nevada, made a three-pointer to give UCSB the lead for good, 31-28. Ami Lakoju's short jumper with 1:01 to play pushed the advantage to 40-31 at the half.
Heidegger opened the second half scoring with another three to push the lead to 43-31. A layup and three-pointer by Bison forward A.J. Jacobson narrowed the lead to 43-36 with 18:07 remaining in the game, but the Gauchos went on an 11-0 run over the next 3:32 to push the edge to 54-36. NDSU rallied to within 70-61 on a pair of Paul Miller free throws with 5:21 left, but a 13-3 UCSB surge that was capped by Heidegger's final three-point basket with 1:23 on the clock, put the game away.
Vincent, who is returning from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, was limited to 17 minutes, but finished with seven points and his career-high of eight assists. He also had just one turnover.
"It was great to get back out there in a real game and compete," Vincent said. "I wasn't nervous, but the adrenaline was really pumping. This was a good start to my senior year."
"Gabe has worked so hard to get back," Pasternack said. "He never missed a rehab session. He was on time for every one of his sessions and he took them very seriously. Their (the Bison) best player is Paul Miller and we put Gabe on him. Some people don't realize just how good of a basketball player Gabe Vincent is. He is so much more than a shooter. He can defend, penetrate and get into the lane, find the open man and he makes good decisions with the ball."
For the Bison, a 19-win team a year ago and one of the favorites to win the Summitt Conference, Paul Miller led four players in double-figures with 18 points. After shooting 44.4% in the first half, NDSU hit just 37.0% in the second half to finish at 40.7% for the game.
UCSB shot 50.9% overall and drained 12-of-22 three-point attempts, 54.5%. After being outrebounded by three in the first half, the Gauchos won the rebound battle, 36-29. For the game, they also had 21 assists on 27 baskets and committed just six turnovers.
UCSB will hit the road for its next four games, including a Wednesday, Nov. 15 contest at the University of Pittsburgh that will tip-off at 4:00 p.m. (PST) and can be viewed on the ACC Network Plus and on the Watch ESPN app. Santa Barbara will remain on the road and play at Texas A&M on Friday, Nov. 17. The Gauchos will then return to Southern California and play in a tournament at Pepperdine on Monday-Tuesday, Nov. 20-21, opening with the host Waves. They will then play either Montana or Oral Roberts. All four games are part of the Progressive Legend's Challenge.
Great season tickets are still available for UCSB basketball. For more information or to purchase, call 805-893-UCSB or click here.