LONG BEACH, Calif. – Leland King II had 20 points, 15 rebounds and a career-high five assists to help first-place UC Santa Barbara overcome a slow start en route to its eighth straight win, an 80-70 decision at Long Beach State on Thursday night.
The win, coupled with UC Irvine's home loss to Hawai'i, puts UCSB one and a half games up on the Anteaters and UC Davis in the Big West standings.
The Gauchos (20-5 overall, 9-2 in the Big West) made just 2-of-12 field goal attempts to begin the game, falling behind 7-3, but they closed the first half by outscoring the 49ers (13-15, 7-5) 34-10 to take a commanding 37-17 lead by halftime.
UCSB's lead ballooned to as many as 21 points twice early in the second half and was still 73-58 when Marcus Jackson made a jumper from near the free throw line at the 5:12 mark.
That was when Long Beach went on a 10-1 run to carve the advantage to 74-68 when Deishuan Booker made a lay-up with 1:15 to play. A pair of free throws by Gabe Vincent, a jumper by Max Heidegger and a breakaway slam dunk by Christian Terrell gave the Gauchos a 6-2 surge to close the game, securing the win.
"The way our guys defended in the first half, I thought we did an unbelievable job," said head coach Joe Pasternack. "We trapped them and got them out of rhythm. And then like any really talented team, they came back in the second half and made it really tough on us."
King nearly had his 13th double-double of the season in the first half with 12 of his points and nine of his rebounds. Vincent finished with 19 points, Heidegger had 16 and Jackson added 12, including 10 in the second half.
"This was a true team win tonight," Pasternack said. "Anytime you win on the road in college basketball isn't easy, and it's a credit to our guys.
As a team, UCSB finished at 49.2% from the field, and after its slow start, made 28 of its final 49 shots, 57.1%. Many of the shots came in close as the Gauchos equaled their season-low with just 13 three-point attempts.
Gabe Levin led Long Beach State with 25 points and 14 rebounds. He made 11-of-11 free throws. Edon Maxhuni scored 20 points, all in the second half. Maxhuni was 4-for-7 from three-point range, his teammates were 0-for-14 from outside the arc.
The win ended the 49ers four-game winning streak in the series. The 20-5 record equals the best start in school history, set previously by the 1987-88 Gauchos. The eight game winning streak is the program's longest since 2015-16 when it won nine games in succession.
With his two three-point baskets, Heidegger now has 77 on the season and needs 11 to break the school's single-season record of 87 set in 1986-87 by Brian Johnson.
UCSB will return home on Saturday afternoon to host UC Davis in a game that will tip-off at 2:00 p.m. at the Thunderdome. Davis trails the Gauchos by one and a half games in the race for first-place in the Big West Conference.