SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – JaQuori McLaughlin recorded 20 points, six rebounds and five assists, to help UC Santa Barbara overcome Grambling State and a cold shooting start to post a 67-58 win on Friday night.
The win was the third in a row for the Gauchos (4-3). The game completed a marathon four-game, nine-day west coast road trip for the Tigers (3-4).
UCSB opened the game by making just two of its first 13 shots and falling behind 7-2 with 16:09 to play in the first half. A 15-foot jumper by McLaughlin made the score 7-4 at the 14:47 mark, but then both teams went scoreless until McLaughlin made another midrange jumper with 10:41 left to make it 7-6.
The junior guard then put his team ahead with a leaner in the paint, 8-7, and a three-point basket by Jay Nagle gave the Gauchos the lead for good, 11-7, with 7:08 on the clock. By the time Grambling's Ivy Smith made a three to cut the gap to 11-10, his team had gone without a point for nearly 10 minutes.
"JaQuori is a huge part of what we do," said head coach Joe Pasternack. "His offensive numbers are great, but we hang our hat on defense, and he's a big part of that. Tonight, we needed all of his offensive skills and it's comforting to know we can depend on him."
Santa Barbara pulled out to a 27-17 advantage by halftime. McLaughlin was the primary reason for the Gauchos advantage as he made 6-of-8 shots overall and had 13 points in the opening half.
Santa Barbara scored the first nine points of the second half. Amadou Sow made a short layup, McLaughlin hit a free throw, Sékou Touré slashed in the key for a layup, Sow then wove his way through a myriad of defenders and hit another acrobatic layup to give his team a 34-17 lead. After a timeout, Matt Freeman made three of four free throws, pushing the score to 36-17 with 16:49 remaining in the game.
"Sékou has nine rebounds tonight and he had eight on Wednesday," Pasternack said. "When we lose a player, he is line like an NFL guy, he says 'next man up. It's a pretty special trait."
"I feel great right now," McLaughlin said. "Things are coming to me, naturally, and I am enjoying the game."
The teams continued to trade buckets. Freeman hit a short scoop shot with 15:14 on the clock to give UCSB a double-up, a 42-21 lead, and from there the visitors were playing catchup.
Grambling continued to claw back into the game. The Tigers pressed their way back to a six-point game at 56-50, 57-51 and 59-53, but could get no closer.
"They (Grambling) were scoring 87 points a game," Pasternack said. "They press the whole game. Tonight they score 58 and we have 11 turnovers, I'd say that's pretty good. This week was about defense. As a team, we had to get better on the defensive end, and we did."\
UCSB will hit the road for the next four games beginning with a Tuesday, Dec. 3 non-conference contest at Cal State Bakersfield, which will become a member of the Big West Conference for the 2020-21 season. The Gauchos will remain on the road for games at UT-Arlington (Dec. 7), Southern Utah (Dec. 14) and Idaho State (Dec. 16).
"When you go on the road, in college basketball, it's about defense and rebounding," Pasternack said. "We've been focused on both."