MALIBU, Calif. – In the first game of its participation in the Progressive Legends Classic, UC Santa Barbara had an 10-point lead at Pitt, but due in great part to a 10-for-22 free throw performance, they couldn't hang on for the win.
On Tuesday night, in their final game of the tournament, the Gauchos (3-2) made 28-of-35 free throw attempts en route to an 80-73 win over Montana (3-2), earning them the title of the Sub-Regional Round.
Max Heidegger, the Malibu, Calif., native, scored a game-high 27 points, including 13-of-16 from the free throw line, to lead UCSB to its second consecutive win, the program's first two-game winning streak since the 2015-16 season.
"It feels good to win consecutive games," Heidegger said. "Last year was a tough one, so for us to play well and win on consecutive nights is really a boost for us."
Heidegger led four Gaucho players in double-figures. Graduate transfer Leland King added 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting, while Jalen Canty had 12 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high four blocked shots. Marcus Jackson, another graduate transfer, added 10 points and five rebounds.
In a game of spurts, UCSB saw its one-time 18-point lead disappear when the Grizzlies Bobby Moorehead hit a three-pointer to give his team a 46-44 lead with 13:27 left in the game. After the team's traded baskets, Canty scored on a nice reach back lay-in, was fouled and made the free throw to give the Gauchos a 49-48 advantage with 12:05 to play.
Canty's three-point play kick-started a 13-0 run by UCSB. He also completed the surge with a three-point play when he collected an offensive rebound an then powered through a pair of Montana defenders to give his team a 59-48 lead at the 9:48 mark. Canty also made a pair of free throws during the stretch.
"It feels great to have a winning streak," Canty said. "After what we went through last year, this is great for our guys. I am really pleased that I was able to be a part of that run that helped us win tonight's game."
The Grizzlies didn't go quietly, but every time they cut into the lead, the Gauchos seemed to answer. A few of the answers came from King, who scored 10 of his 20 points in the final eight minutes of the game.
"I am very aware of the score and the time on the clock," King said. "I like to be one of the guys taking the shots when the game is on the line. I'm comfortable with that and we actually have a few guys who are comfortable in that situation."
Montana whittled the Gaucho lead to four for the final time at 72-68 on a slashing lay-up by Michael Oguine with 3:07 on the clock, but after a couple of misses and a turnover by the Grizzlies, Heidegger made an acrobatic, hanging lay-up with 1:24 left to push the lead to 74-68. Then, after Oguine made 1-of-2 free throws, Heidegger made a mid-range jumper to make it 76-69 with just 44 seconds to play to essentially seal things.
"Leland hit some big-time shots at the end of the game," said head coach Joe Pasternack. "That's who he is. He wants the ball. And then Max Heidegger, with the shot clock winding down, he proved that he's not just a three-point shooter. He doesn't have to settle. He can get a nice 15-footer."
Pasternack believed that the win over Montana was an important one for his UCSB team.
"I think Montana is an NCAA Tournament team," he said. "They beat Pittsburgh. I think they're the best team in their league. They almost beat Penn State. Penn State beat Pittsburgh by 30. So Montana is a great team. They're very well-coached. To show our team that you can go on the road and win two games is huge, because that's what you have to do at a neutral site in the Big West Tournament."
The Gauchos made 23-of-41 shots overall, 56.1%, their highest percentage since late in the 2015-16 season. They also hit 64.7% in the second half. The only downside was a season-high 21 turnovers, but they also forced the Grizzlies into 17. UCSB also had a season-high eight blocked shots.
Montana was led by Ahmaad Rorie, a transfer from Oregon who finished with 20 points. Oguine finished with 14 points and Jamar Akoh had 12.
The Gauchos return home after their four-game road stretch to host Prairie View A&M on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. in the Thunderdome. The game is a "Black Friday Game" with discount tickets and free parking offered to all fans. Log on to UCSBgauchos.com for more information.