Ajay Mitchell finished with 16 points and eight assists. | Credit: JEFF LIANG

Clutch plays down the stretch turned the tide in UCSB’s favor as the Gauchos withstood a second-half surge by visiting Cal Poly to claim a 68-82 victory on Thursday night at the Thunderdome.

The Blue-Green Rivalry brought the best out of Miles Norris, who finished with a game-high 18 points. Ajay Mitchell scored 16 points and dished out eight assists. The one-two punch of Norris and Mitchell sparked the Gauchos to a 7-2 run over the final 1:14 to secure the victory.

“You’ve got to get stops; the final war in the last four minutes, it’s going to come down to defense and making free throws,” Norris said. “Unfortunately, we missed a lot of free throws today, so we had to make some crucial stops at the end. I just tried to make some plays to help the team win.”

The Gauchos got off to a fast start offensively and shot six-of-10 from three-point range in the first half. Cole Anderson continued his torrid pace from beyond the arch, knocking down three-of-five shots from three-point range, and UCSB shot 57.5 percent overall from the field.

“Just moving the ball and sharing the ball. Last time we played them, we had a lot of turnovers and didn’t share the ball too well,” said Norris of UCSB’s strong start offensively. “We were getting into the paint and finding guys. My guys found me for some great shots.”

Miles Norris led all scorers with 18 points. | Credit: Jeff Liang

The Gauchos jumped out to an 18-13 lead at the 10:59 mark of the first half on a Norris three-pointer and extended the lead to 26-17 with seven minutes remaining in the first half on a pull-up jumper by Ajare Sanni from midrange. Anderson’s third and final three-pointer of the game put UCSB ahead 35-27 going into halftime.

However, the free-flowing UCSB offense grinded to a trickle in the early stages of the second half, and Cal Poly mounted a 11-6 run to open the second half, cutting its deficit to 41-38 at the 15:47 mark of the second half on a jump hook by Alimamy Koroma.

The Mustangs went on to tie the score at 52-52 on a Brantly Stevenson three-pointer with 5:47 to play, but never took a lead in the second half. 

Mitchell came up with a huge three-point play with 1:14 remaining that put UCSB ahead 64-60 after the successful free throw, and Norris followed with a timely block that erased any chance of a Cal Poly response with 48 seconds remaining. 

From there, the Gauchos closed out the game from the free-throw line.

“When we came to Santa Barbara six years ago, we wanted to create a dominating home court, and I thought it was one of the best crowds we’ve had since we’ve been here. It was awesome. Kudos to the fans and the students. They really helped us and willed us through this” said UCSB coach Joe Pasternack. “Every game, we’re in a one-game season, and every game is going to be a battle. I don’t care who we’re playing, the first-place team or the last-place team, that’s the way it goes.”

The Gauchos (18-3 overall, 9-1 Big West) will continue Big West Conference play at Cal State Northridge on Saturday beginning at 7 p.m.

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