Gauchos Hang on to Edge UC Riverside, 55-54

Eric Childress (Photo by Tony Mastres)
Eric Childress (Photo by Tony Mastres)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Alan Williams scored six points down the stretch and Zalmico Harmon made two free throws with 6.3 seconds remaining as UC Santa Barbara hung-on to beat UC Riverside 55-54 on Thursday night. 

The Highlanders (8-18 overall, 3-9 in the Big West) used a three-pointer from Austin Quick with 0.2 seconds left, but it was too little, too late as the Gauchos (17-7, 8-3) won for the fifth time in the last six games. 

UCSB grinded out the win despite shooting a season-low 31.4% from the field.

"This was definitely a grind-it-out win for us," said head coach Bob Williams. "But sometimes you just have to win like that. It wasn't pretty but we'll take it." 

Despite shooting just 34.8% in the first half, UCSB held a 31-20 lead at the break. But the 11-point lead evaporated as Riverside used a 16-7 run to open the second half, cutting the lead to 38-36 with 12:48 to play.

The Highlanders finally tied the score at 45 on a short jumper by Steven Jones at the 5:07 mark. Michael Bryson responded for the Gauchos with a slam dunk, but after two scoreless possessions for each team, Taylor Johns was fouled on an attempted put back and he made both free throws to tie it again at 47 with 3:16 remaining.

Following another scoreless possession, Jones streaked up the court for a lay-up, but Kyle Boswell took a charge with 2:26 left. Alan Williams was fouled on the next trip down the court, making both free throws. Then, after a defensive stop, Williams made a hook shot to bump the lead to 51-47.

After Sam Finley made one of two free throws, the Gauchos wound the clock down to 20 seconds before getting the ball into Williams again and again he responded with another short jumper in the key to make it 53-48 with 19.4 left. 

Quick answered for Riverside by hitting a three-pointer from the right corner to make it 53-51 with 7.4 seconds on the clock. On the ensuing in bounds pass, Nick Gruninger intentionally fouled Harmon with 6.3 seconds left. Harmon made both free throws to give UCSB the insurmountable 55-51 lead, rendering Quick's final three meaningless. 

"I thought our point guards made a big difference for us tonight," Bob Williams said. "Z goes another game without a turnover, scores six and has five rebounds. E (Eric Childress) was outstanding too and I'll tell you, the match-ups made us play them together a lot tonight and they responded." 

In the last eight games, Harmon has 39 assists and just three turnovers. Childress had seven points, five assists, four rebounds and a pair of steals on Thursday night, turning the ball over just once. 

Despite making just 6-of-21 shots from the field, Alan Williams finished with a game-high 19 points to go along with 15 rebounds. He added a pair of blocked shots. Taran Brown added 10 points and five rebounds as the Gauchos won the rebound battle, 37-32. UCSB also had just nine turnovers.

Riverside was led by Taylor Johns who finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds, five blocked shots and two steals. Lucas Devenny added 10 points and eight rebounds.

The Gauchos will host Cal State Fullerton on Saturday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. Tickets for the penultimate game of the season can be purchased from the Ticket Office in the Intercollegiate Athletics Building on campus, by calling 805-893-UCSB (8272) or online by clicking here.