ANCHORAGE, Alaska – In a game that had several waves of momentum, UC Santa Barbara caught the last one and rode it into the Great Alaska Shootout championship with a thrilling 65-60 overtime win over Mercer on Friday night.
Michael Bryson's long three-pointer from above the top of the key at the buzzer to end regulation survived a lengthy instant replay cross examination and tied the score at 53, sending the game into overtime. In the OT, the Gauchos (3-2) outscored the Bears (3-3) 12-7 to complete a thrilling win.
"It felt good out of my hands, but I didn't know if it was in time," Bryson said. "This was great. It was a game that we gave away for most of the second half, and it was a great feeling to get this done."
The game-tying shot was the second three-point attempt of the possession by UCSB. John Green attempted the first one, but it rimmed in-and-out, was tipped by Zalmico Harmon and was chased down by T.J. Taylor who quickly found Bryson alone for the money ball.
The opening moments of the overtime were all Gauchos. Alan Williams, who tied his career-high with 20 rebounds, scored two of his 22 points on a pair of free throws. After Mercer's Ike Nwamu made 1-of-2 from the line to cut the edge to one, DaJuan Smith made a driving left-handed lay-up to make it 57-54 with 3:07 remaining.
Following a turnover by T.J. Hallice, Smith found Bryson open on the left wing and Bryson buried his second three-point shot of the game to give UCSB a 60-54 lead with 2:23 left. The Bears edged back within 60-58 on a free throw by Hallice and a three-point play by Nwamu, but the Gauchos responded again when Smith made 1-of-2 free throws to push the score to 61-58.
A three-point attempt by Hallice bounced off the rim and was rebounded by Bryson. Smith was fouled and missed both of his free throws, but the second one was rebounded by Williams and 11 second later, with 29 seconds to play, Smith was fouled again and this time he made both free throws to push the score to 62-58.
A lay-up by Phillip Leonard cut the gap to 62-60 with 21 seconds left, but another free throw by Smith, and a pair by Harmon, gave UCSB its final margin of 65-60.
"That was a very exciting basketball game," said Gaucho coach Bob Williams. "It wasn't always pretty, but it was really exciting college basketball."
UCSB led by as many as 10 points in regulation, the last time coming at 32-22 with 16:24 to play in regulation, but a spate of turnovers helped Mercer not only get back in the game, but take a 45-40 advantage with less than four minutes to play.
Trailing 45-40, the Gauchos outscored the Bears 8-3 to tie the score 48-48 when Williams made a reverse-pivot jump hook from straightaway with 1:09 left. A jumper by Hallice and a free throw by Leonard made it 51-48, but two free throws by Smith cut the lead back to 51-50 with 19 ticks left on the clock. With 16 seconds remaining, Nwamu was intentionally fouled and made both free throws, setting the stage for Bryson's heroics.
Bryson finished with 17 points and Smith added 11 to Williams' game-high 22. UCSB outrebounded Mercer by a 45-31 margin, but 19 turnovers kept the game within the Bears' reach. Leonard had 17 points while Hallice and Nwamu each added 16.
Bryson's three-pointer to end regulation was actually his second last-second bucket of the game. At the end of the first half, with 0.7 seconds to play, Harmon in-bounded the ball from the baseline and found Bryson who caught the ball and shoved it in as the half ended, giving Santa Barbara a 25-20 lead at the break.
At the time, few could have imagined that those two points would ultimately lead to three even bigger points.
The Gauchos have now won three straight games and will play Colorado State, a winner over Pacific in the first semifinal game on Friday, in the tournament title game at 8:30 p.m. (PST) on Saturday night. The game will be aired live on CBS Sports Network and on AM 1290 KZSB.