Ajay Mitchell and Andre Kelly helped get the UCSB men’s basketball team off to a good start in a 79-66 win over Hampton Monday night at the Thunderdome in the first game of the Santa Barbara Beach Classic.
Coming off its first loss of the season, UCSB improved to 3-1 overall and remains unbeaten at home while Hampton fell to 1-3.
“We shared the basketball tonight,” UCSB coach Joe Pasternack said after the game. “We had 20 assists tonight, three against Northern Arizona. We weren’t doing that in that game but we did it tonight.”
Santa Barbara’s offense was led by Mitchell, who dropped a game-high 17 points and also paced the passing game with eight assists to just one turnover.
“The pace of the offense was great. We moved the ball way more than the previous game,” said Mitchell. “In practice, we emphasized giving the ball inside to Andre (Kelly) so that he can give it back outside and then we just move it around and got great shots. That’s what we did tonight.”
It was also a great day for Mitchell from beyond the 3-point line, going 2-for-2 after previously shooting 2-for-15 from deep in the first three games of the season.
“The last three last games I was really worried about me shooting the ball, making shots. Today, I was just worried about winning and finding my open teammates and, when I was open, I was going to shoot it. I felt good about that mindset,” Mitchell said.
It was also a big night for graduate transfer forward Andre Kelly, who scored 16 points on 7-for-11 from the field. The big man added seven boards and two blocked shots as well.
This after Kelly struggled last Friday, scoring just four points and collecting seven boards against NAU.
“I’m just trying to play within the offense, trying to play inside out. I think good things happen when we’re able to do that,” he said.
“We got in a good flow early. I think we strugglerd to do that for 40 minutes during the duration of the game, but I think we had a strong, strong first half and we have to keep that same intensity and pace.”
Pasternack said getting Kelly involved early was a huge emphasis. He scored 10 of his 16 points in the first half.
“We have to get the ball into Andre, he’s a heck of a player. We got to get him the ball and play inside out,” Pasternack said.
Another big reason for the win was the Gauchos’ domination in the paint.
UCSB doubled up on Hampton in points in the paint, 44-22, and outrebounded the Pirates 45-27.
“Rebounding is a really big part of the game that I don’t think is talked about as much as it should,” Kelly said.
Senior forward Miles Norris led all players with 16 boards to go along with his eight points.
“All summer long, we’ve just been pounding into him that he has to be a complete player and not just a three-point shooter. His shot didn’t fall tonight and he went and had 16 rebounds, so that was huge,” Pasternack said.
The two sides traded baskets early, but the Gauchos started taking over after a made three by Mitchell gave the home team the lead at 10-9.
UCSB went on a 10-0 run, capped by a Kelly dunk that left the crowd stunned and gave his team a 20-9 lead.
At 23-13, the Gauchos went on an 11-0 run over the next five minutes to take a commanding 34-13 lead. They would eventually take a 42-23 lead into the break.
Coming out of the second half, Hampton started to knock down some tough shots.
For the game, the Pirates made 8 of their 18 looks from deep, but six of those came in the second half on just eight attempts.
In the first four minutes of the half, Hampton knocked down three deep balls to cut the lead down to 13.
By the 12-minute mark, Hampton had cut the lead to 10. It cut the lead down to nine multiple times but never any closer.
Whenever the lead got close, a timely drive to the hoop by Mitchell, Ajare Sanni or any other guard would get the lead right back until the Gauchos won outright by 13.
“What we have to be able to do is play two halves and play for 40 minutes, and we struggle with that as a team right now. We hold them to 31% and then we play to score and that’s an issue. We have to mature and we have to become better and we have a long, long way to go for our team,” Pasternack said.
UCSB’s next contest is Wednesday against North Alabama at 7 p.m.