Miles Norris, shown dunking in a game earlier this season, recorded his second-straight double-double on Wednesday, scoring 17 points and grabbing a game-high 10 rebounds to lead UCSB to a 61-50 baskeball victory over Appalachian State.
Miles Norris, shown dunking in a game earlier this season, recorded his second-straight double-double on Wednesday, scoring 17 points and grabbing a game-high 10 rebounds to lead UCSB to a 61-50 baskeball victory over Appalachian State. Credit: Jeff Liang Photo


Gauchos defeat Appalachian State 61-50 in Jerry Colangelo Hall of Fame Classic

PHOENIX, Ariz. — UC Santa Barbara’s endgame looked game-ready on Wednesday for the start of league basketball play next week.

The Gauchos used stifling defense and rebounding, plus clutch shooting, to rally from a seven-point deficit and defeat Appalachian State 61-50 at the Footprint Center in the annual Jerry Colangelo Hall of Fame Classic.

“To our players’ credit, their perseverance, and they’re persistence on defense and rebounding the basketball, have been absolutely terrific,” coach Joe Pasternack said.

The victory is the fifth straight for UCSB (9-2), which will open Big West Conference play next Thursday at defending league tournament champion Cal State Fullerton.

Sophomore point guard Ajay Mitchell, whose clutch play led to recent wins at both Pepperdine and Portland State, was king of the road once again. He caught fire in the last 9:40 on Wednesday to score 11 of his game-high 22 points. He also had four assists and three steals.

His stamina remained strong even though he played all but one minute of the game.

“Our strength program, and Luke Storey in particular, have done an amazing job to get Ajay as strong as he is,” Pasternack said.

UCSB shot only 38.6% but it pulled out the win by making 10 of its last 13 attempts. It held the Mountaineers (7-6), a team that had won at Louisville and lost at Wake Forest on a last-second shot, to just 39.2% — well below its season percentage of 47.3%

“These road games, you’re not going to shoot the ball well all the time,” Pasternack said. “We have to be unbelievably gritty on defense, and it’s really hard to play defense when your shot’s not falling.”

Miles Norris added 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting. He made 3-of-5 three-pointers while his teammates were just 1-for-12. But Pasternack was most pleased with his 10 rebounds, marking his second-consecutive double-double.

The Gauchos out-rebounded Appalachian State, 43-30.

“Miles is a totally different player than he was when he was in high school, and I’ve known him since he was a freshman,” Pasternack said. “He’s rebounding the ball at an unbelievable clip, and his motor is much better.

“He’s not just relying on making threes — although he made 3-of-5 today, and they were huge.”

Freshman Koat Keat Tong, filling in at center for an ailing Andre Kelly, grabbed nine rebounds while playing a season-high 31 minutes. Kelly, UCSB’s leading rebounder on the year with average of 8.0 per game, was able to play just 12 minutes and only two in the second half.

“We have no chance to win if KK doesn’t play the way he did,” Pasternack said. “Andre was very sick before the game. He tried to give it a go, he did the best he could, but he just couldn’t go.

“We had to play without him and somebody had to step up. As a freshman, to be thrown into the fire against a really good team — a seasoned team — KK played really well.”

The Gauchos made their first three shots from three-point range — two by Norris and another by Calvin Wishart — to seize a 14-11 lead. A three-point play by Ajare Sanni on a put-back kept UCSB ahead 17-15.

But Norris and Wishart sat much of the rest of the first half with two fouls apiece, as did starters Kelly and Josh Pierre-Louis. The Gauchos missed their last seven threes of the period and made just 2-of-12 shots overall in the final eight minutes of the first half.

Appalachian State pulled ahead 25-19 after four straight free throws by Tyree Boykin. He led the Mountaineers with 14 points.

UCSB dug in defensively, however, to hold them to 2-for-10 shooting in the last six minutes of the half.

Mitchell scored six points in that time — four from the free-throw line — to get the Gauchos even at 27-all. A jumper by Donovan Gregory at the halftime buzzer, however, sent Appalachian state into the locker room with a two-point lead.

UCSB’s offensive woes continued through the first eight minutes of the second half, and this time Mitchell was no help. The Gauchos made just 3-of-15 shots in that time while their star point guard misfired on all five of his attempts.

Appalachian State used a 7-0 run to pull ahead 36-29 with 16:14 to go.

Norris, who made all three of UCSB’s shots in the first eight minutes of the half, scored a put-back and a layup off Cole Anderson’s feed to trim the deficit to 36-33. His three knotted the score at 40-all with 9:02 left.

Mitchell and Pierre-Louis kept the pressure on the Mountaineers’ backcourt with two steals apiece in the second half.

“Josh was unbelievable on defense today,” Pasternack said. “It doesn’t show up in a box score, but his energy on defense and his motor were awesome.”

Mitchell, who came alive with a scoring runner with 9:40 to go, converted two other drives and a free throw in the next three minutes to put the Gauchos ahead 45-42. He made four of his last five shots in the game to finish at 7-for-19 overall.

Mitchell’s steal also led to a fast-break layup by Wishart to get UCSB’s margin up to five points, 49-44, with 4:45 remaining.

Two big breaks helped the Gauchos add four points to its cushion in just one possession.

Pierre-Louis stole the ball and the Mountaineers’ Gregory was called for a flagrant foul when he intentionally grabbed his jersey to prevent an uncontested layup.

Pierre-Louis made both foul shots and Wishart cashed in the extra possession with a bizarre basket. He launched a turn-around jumper over a taller defender, and then watched the ball crawl along the top of the backboard before it dropped onto the rim and then settled into the basket.

The sequence improved UCSB’s lead to 53-44 with 3:43 left.

Wishart made 3-of-4 shots in the second half and finished with nine points.

“He hurt his knee in the Portland State game and didn’t practice the last two days,” Pasternack said. “He wasn’t going to play in the game, but our trainer, Jackson Smidt, did an unbelievable job of getting him ready for today’s game.

“We don’t win without Calvin. He was terrific.”

Mitchell and Pierre-Louis each scored a basket and two free throws to keep the Gauchos safely ahead the rest of the way.

“I think everybody needs a break … needs to go home and be with our families over the holidays, and then come back and be ready to go,” Pasternack said. “It’s all now about recharging our batteries.”

Mark Patton

Mark Patton, Noozhawk Sports Columnist

Noozhawk sports columnist Mark Patton is a longtime local sports writer. Contact him at The opinions expressed are his own.