An electric atmosphere in the Thunderdome gave the streaking UCSB men’s basketball team the boost it needed to overcome visiting Hawai’i 67-60 on Thursday night.
It was senior night for UCSB, and program stalwarts such as Amadou Sow, Miles Norris, and Robinson Idehen were eager to make the most of their final showing in front of the home crowd. After a big second half in which the Gauchos outscored Hawaii 42-32 to erase a three-point deficit, that mission was accomplished.
“Those guys have been with us for four years, and they’ve experienced I think some of the best success in the history of this program over the last four years, and they are a big reason why,” said UCSB coach Joe Pasternack. “It was really emotional for us as coaches, and I think for them as players.”
Both teams struggled with turnovers in the first half, but Hawai’i made up for it with hot shooting from three-point range and took a 28-25 lead into the locker room at halftime.
In the second half, UCSB fed off the energy of the largest home crowd of the season and the phenomenal athleticism of Josh Pierre-Louis, who finished with a team-high 16 points, including 13 in the second half.
“Getting in the [paint] just opens everything up and creates open lanes for myself, and I was just reading the game at that point and picking them apart,” Pierre-Louis said. “If you stop me, I’m finding somebody for a shot.”
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The Gauchos took their first lead of the second half 46-44 on a basket inside by Amadou Sow with 9:54 remaining in the second half, and although the game remained tight in the final minutes, UCSB never trailed again.
A thunderous dunk by Miles Norris with 2:06 remaining put UCSB in front 60-57, and Pierre-Louis followed with an acrobatic layup on the ensuing UCSB possession, increasing the lead to 62-57 with 1:36 remaining.
UCSB’s final basket from the field came on an offensive rebound and put-back by Norris with 24 seconds to play that put the Gauchos in front 64-57.
With 10 seconds to play Pasternack subbed out his starters and received a big bear hug from Sow that lifted him off the ground amid a standing ovation from the crowd.
“My one goal for this program when we took over five years ago was to have a home-court advantage, and tonight was spectacular,” Pasternack said. “The students were unbelievable; the crowd was unbelievable. It’s why you play college basketball is to play in front of that type of home court and have that home-court advantage, and I think they willed us in the second half to victory.”
The Big West Tournament begins on Tuesday, March 8, in Henderson, Nevada. The winner receives the conference’s automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.