Gauchos Rally to Defeat Titans, 81-68

Jarriesse Blackmon collects one of his eight rebounds in UCSB's win over Cal State Fullerton on Saturday night. (Photo by Eric Isaacs)
Jarriesse Blackmon collects one of his eight rebounds in UCSB's win over Cal State Fullerton on Saturday night. (Photo by Eric Isaacs)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Michael Bryson had 25 points, nine rebounds and a career-high seven assists and Gabe Vincent scored 20 points as UC Santa Barbara overcame a nine-point first half deficit to defeat visiting Cal State Fullerton 81-68 on Saturday night.

Eric Childress added 13 points and seven assists for the Gauchos (10-12 overall, 4-5 in Big West). Khalil Ahmad scored 21 points and Tre' Coggins added 17 for the Titans (9-13, 2-6). 

"I thought our effort in the second half was very good," said UCSB head coach Bob Williams. "We were more aggressive and really did a good job of being unselfish and making the extra pass." 

The Gauchos led 24-22 with 4:14 left in the first half, but when Malcolm Brooks made a three-pointer from the top of the key with 1:38 on the clock to complete a 12-1 run, Fullerton had a 34-25 lead. A pair of Bryson free throws with 1:11 left carved the advantage to 34-27 at the half. 

Bryson got UCSB started by making a three-pointer to open the scoring in the second half. His three ignited a 25-8 surge over the first 9:26 of the half, giving the Gauchos a 52-42 lead that they never relinquished. Bryson scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and, at one point, assisted on five straight baskets. His seven assists were a career-high.

"Michael was outstanding in the second half," Williams said. "He was patient with his shots, found open teammates and took the shots that he has to take for us to be successful. He is a special player when he plays like that." 

After Santa Barbara took a 10-point lead, the Titans battled back, closing to within five on three occasions, the final time at 69-64 on a jumper from 10-feet by Ahmad with 3:35 remaining in the game.

"We closed this game out," Williams said. "We have not been great at that, closing games out. Tonight we finished things in the second half. I think this was our highest scoring half this season and that's a good sign."

UCSB scored 54 points, with 14 assists, in the second half of the win over the Titans. It was, in fact, the team's highest scoring half of the season. 

"As a group, we want to share the ball," Bryson said. "I was looking for my teammates and they responded. When I had open shots, I took them, but my priority was to make sure we got open looks." 

In the second half, Bryson's efforts paid off. As a team, the Gauchos nailed 18-of-27 shots overall, 66.7%, a season-best. They also drained 7-of-9 three-point attempts, 77.8%, in the final 20 minutes. Vincent made 5-of-7 three-pointers in the game, including 3-of-4 in the second half. 

Another UCSB player that played a key role was freshman Jarriesse Blackmon. While he went scoreless, he had eight rebounds in just 18 minutes and seemed to ignite the team. 

"Jarriesse plays with so much energy," Williams said. "When you have someone play like he plays, it's contagious and that's something we needed."

With 25 points, Bryson has now scored 1,449 points. On Saturday night, he eased past Doug Rex (1,434) and into eighth on UCSB's all-time scoring list. Also, by making three three-point baskets, he now has 213 in his career and is within nine of becoming the Gauchos' all-time leader.

The Gauchos will play just one game next weekend, traveling to UC Davis for a 7:00 p.m. game on Thursday, Feb. 11.