LAS VEGAS—UC Santa Barbara hadn’t won a postseason game since the 1990 NCAA Tournament, when it defeated Houston in the first round.Michigan State, featuring a young guard named Mark Montgomery, eliminated the Gauchos, who went on to suffer through a 26-year dry spell without a postseason win.That drought ended Monday, at the expense of Montgomery’s Northern Illinois Huskies.In the opening round of the inaugural Vegas 16 Tournament at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, Santa Barbara used a furious second-half rally to defeat the Huskies, 70-63.
“I think we played unbelievable basketball in the first half, but as I told them at halftime, you have to still close,” Montgomery said. “They started the second half making a run, and it seemed like we couldn’t defend without making a foul. And we struggled to score in the second half. It seemed like we couldn’t get consecutive baskets, which kind of hurt us.”
Freshman guard Marshawn Wilson led the Huskies with 14 points, while junior guard Aaric Armstead registered his fifth career double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Levi Bradley added 10 points for Northern Illinois.While the Huskies limited Michael Bryson, who led the Big West in scoring with 18.4 points per game, to just nine points, Gabe Vincent erupted for 20, hitting 6 of 12 from the field, including 4 of 8 from 3-point range. Sam Beeler chipped in 16 points for the Gauchos. “In the second half we didn’t control the tempo and I think that was a major thing that we didn’t do,” Armstead said. “I think we did a pretty good job on Bryson, it was just a matter of some of the other players stepping up.” Trailing 43-32 at halftime, Santa Barbara (19-13 overall) opened the second half on a 9-2 run to cut Northern Illinois’ lead to four, 45-41. The Huskies (21-13) scored a quick three points to extend their lead to seven, but the Gauchos responded with a 5-0 run to pull within two, 48-46.The teams continued to trade baskets until the 6:16 mark, when Santa Barbara completed its comeback.And as the Gauchos used a 7-0 run to take their first lead since a 4-0 start to the game, NIU suffered through a 2 of 10 drought. The Huskies, who led by 15 with a little more than two minutes left in the first half, shot a dismal 25.9 percent (7 of 27) in the second half after opening the game hitting 51.9 percent (14 of 27) from the floor. “I thought we were taking decent shots, we rushed some, but the ball has to go in the basket if you’re going to advance in any tournament,” Montgomery said. “You coach player movement, ball movement – have some patience. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough of it. And they went on their run, but we didn’t get a chance to make our run.When you shoot 25 percent you need a lot of other things to go your way.” The Gauchos, who outscored Northern Illinois 32-24 in the paint, closed the game on a 6-0 run to ice the game after the Huskies pulled within one, 64-63, with 1:51 left on a 3-pointer by Wilson.The loss brings an end to Northern Illinois’ winningest season since 1990-91, when it won a school-record 25 games. The Huskies’ 21 wins are tied for the second-most in a single season in school history.