LOGAN, Utah - James Nunnally had 24 points and 11 rebounds, Orlando Johnson added 22 points and UC Santa Barbara took advantage of two pivotal plays, winning at Utah State for the first time since 1999, 72-64. The game was part of the Sears BracketBuster series.
The Gauchos (15-8) came out on top at the two most pivotal moments of the game and that proved to be the difference against the Aggies (14-14).
UCSB trailed by as many as five points early in the first half at 14-9, but with Nunnally scoring seven of the points, the Gauchos went on a 12-2 run to take a 21-16 lead with 5:10 remaining. Santa Barbara was still leading by five, 23-18, on a baseline jumper by Jaimé Serna with 4:36 left, but a short jumper by Danny Berger three free throws by Preston Medlin tied the game at 23 apiece.
After each team missed three-point attempts, the Gauchos scored seven straight points in the last 59 seconds of the half, five by Nunnally and the last two on free throws by Johnson, to take a 30-23 lead with four seconds to go in the half.
That's when the first pivotal play occurred. Utah State got the ball into E.J. Farris who drove up the court along the left baseline. Although Farris was harassed by UCSB defenders, he pulled-up and made what appeared to be a buzzer-beating three-pointer to send the Aggies into the locker room down 30-26.
Not so fast. After protests from the Santa Barbara coaching staff, the officials agreed to review the play on the courtside television monitors to make sure the shot beat the buzzer.
It didn't, and was wiped off. The halftime score was 30-23 Gauchos.
Johnson opened the second half with a long three-pointer to put UCSB ahead by 10, 33-23. Baskets inside baskets by Morgan Grim and Kyisean Reed brought the Aggies back within six, 33-27, but Nunnally and Johnson three-pointers sandwiched a Mitch Bruneel layup gave the Gauchos their biggest lead of the game, 42-29 with 16:33 left.
A Brockeith Pane layup with 8:26 remaining cut Santa Barbara's lead to 51-45, but Nunnally responded with another three-pointer and a powerful layup to push the advantage back to 56-45 with 7:30 to play.
Utah State wasn't finished, scoring seven straight points, five by Pane, to close the gap to 56-52 with 6:14 left. After a Gaucho turnover, the Aggies had an opportunity to cut the lead to two when Grim was pulled down and fouled by Serna, both players tumbling to the floor.
It was time for pivotal play number two. Grim jumped up from the baseline and was called for a technical foul when he hovered over Serna and apparently taunted him.
Nunnally made both of the free throws for the Gauchos, restoring the lead to 58-52. Grim, on the other hand, missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and Nunnally pulled down the rebound. On the other end, Serna made a layup and the lead was back to 60-52 and UCSB wasn't finished. When the dust cleared, the Gauchos had a 9-0 run and the lead was 65-52 when Johnson made a layup, was hammered, and made both free throws with just 4:38 left in the game.
Santa Barbara's lead reached 15 (69-54) and never drifted lower eight points, which it on a three-pointer by Bruneel with 21 seconds to play.
"It's always great to beat Utah State, especially here," said UCSB head coach Bob Williams. "Stew (Aggie head coach Stew Morrill) does such a great job and this is such a tough place to play that it makes it very satisfying."
The Gaucho win snapped a six-game Utah State winning streak in the series. It was also just the Aggies sixth loss in their last 101 home games.
Nunnally's 24 points tied a season high and it was his first double-double double. He made 9-of-14 shots overall and 3-of-4 from three-point range. Johnson was 7-of-12 from the field and 4-for-7 from outside the arc.
"That's the most complete game James (Nunnally) has played in a while," Williams said. "He was so patient that very good things happened. I also thought Christian (Peterson) really picked us up tonight. He did a great job."
With freshman Alan Williams limited to six minutes because of foul trouble, Peterson, a senior, played 21 minutes, matching his career-high with eight points and his season-high with four rebounds. He also did an outstanding job on the defensive end, battling Utah State's inside players.
UCSB made 53.2% of its shots, including 63.6% in the second half. The Gauchos also made 8-of-15 three-point shots. Utah State was limited to 41.2%, including a mere 26.1% in the first half. The Aggies were led by Medlin who finished with 14 points and Pane with 13. Medlin, their leading scorer on the season, made just 3-of-11 shots overall and 1-for-7 from three-point range.
The win was the Gauchos sixth in their last seven outings and sixth in their last eight road games. They have also gone 10-3 since January 2.
UCSB remains on the road for one more game before returning home for its final three. The Gauchos travel to front-running Long Beach State on Wednesday, Jan. 22 for an 8:00 p.m. game that will be televised live on ESPN2.