LARAMIE, Wyo. – UC Santa Barbara used a 12-1 run in the closing minutes on Tuesday night at the University of Wyoming to transform a tight game into a 76-63 lead with 29 seconds and ultimately a 76-66 win in the season opener for both teams.
The Gauchos (1-0) led the game for nearly 31 of 40 minutes, including the entire second half. The Cowboys (0-1) took their final lead on a basket by A.J. Banks with 1:18 to play in the first half, but JaQuori McLaughlin scored five straight points to end the half, giving UCSB a 39-35 lead at the break. The final three points of the half came on a lay-up and free throw with three seconds to play.
McLaughlin, a sophomore transfer from Oregon State, finished with a team-high 17 points for the Gauchos, including 12 in the first half.
UCSB pushed its lead to 45-36 when freshman Amadou Sow scored on a hanging jumper in the lane with 17:54 left in the game. The advantage ballooned to 55-44 on a free throw line jumper by Ar'mond Davis at the 12:51 mark and that's when the Cowboys went to work, going on a 12-2 stretch to cut the lead to 57-56 with 8:41 remaining.
A three-pointer by freshman Jay Nagle, his third of the game, stopped the momentum and gave the Gauchos a 60-56 edge. A pair of free throws by sophomore Devearl Ramsey, a transfer from Nevada, made it 62-56 at the 7:53 mark.
The Cowboys closed within two twice down the stretch, the last time on a pair of free throws by Justin James, setting the stage for UCSB's game-deciding rally which began with another old fashioned three-point play by McLaughlin with 4:01 to play, extending the lead back to 67-62.
"I thought that three-point play by JaQuori, after they cut it to two was really big," said second-year head coach Joe Pasternack. "Coming on the road and being able to push back after they (Wyoming) made their move was huge."
A bank shot by Jarriesse Blackmon with 2:17 on the clock made it a 69-62 game and the lead never fell below six the rest of the way.
Playing without their leading scorer Max Heidegger who remained in Santa Barbara with concussion symptoms, the Gauchos received huge contributions from several players.
In addition to McLaughlin's 17 points, Ramsey added 14 along with six rebounds and four assists. The backcourt duo combined to make 13 of 14 free throw attempts.
"Even without Max here, we have the attitude of next-man-up," Ramsey said. "We have a lot of guys who can step up and we showed that tonight. This is a tough place to play and it's a good win."
Sow finished with eight points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Blackmon added eight points, eight rebounds and a game-high three blocked shots. Nagle had nine points on a perfect 3-for-3 from three-point range while Zack Moore, a sophomore transfer from Seattle, made both of his three-point attempts and finished with six points.
"As a senior, I think it was important for me to get off to a good start this season," Blackmon said. "We have a lot of good players and we a lot of confidence and it showed tonight."
UCSB's bench contributed 23 points and was perfect from the field (7-for-7) and from three-point range (5-for-5).
The Gauchos finished the game at 51.1% from the field while limiting the Cowboys to 36.2%, including 27.6% in the second half. Wyoming hit just 5-of-29 three-point attempts, including 1-for-13 in the second half, 7.7%. UCSB also had a 40-39 rebound edge.
Santa Barbara will return home on Wednesday before hitting the road on Saturday for a Sunday, Nov. 11 game at North Dakota State. The game against the Bison will tip-off at 11:00 a.m. (PST) in Fargo, N.D.