NORTHRIDGE – In the opening minute of Thursday night’s game at Cal State Northridge, UC Santa Barbara’s Max Heidegger became the 29th player in school history to eclipse the 1,000-point mark when he made a lay-up. In the final 1:33, he made his two biggest shots of the season. 

Heidegger sandwiched a pair of three-point baskets around two free throws by Amado Sow in the closing 1:33, the game-winner coming with 3.8 seconds left, to help the Gauchos (20-9 overall, 9-6 Big West) battle back for a 76-74 win over the Matadors (13-18, 7-8) on Thursday night. 

UCSB trailed 72-68 when Heidegger drilled a contested three from the elbow extended on the left side, cutting the deficit to 72-71 with 1:33 to play. 

The Gauchos then came up big defensively with a pair of blocked shots. The first, by Jarriesse Blackmon, came against Lamine Diane, who finished with a game-high 34 points, and the second, by JaQuori McLaughlin, came against Terrell Gomez who finished with 21 points. The blocked shots resulted in a 30-second clock violation. 

“That was an outstanding defensive possession,” said head coach Joe Pasternack. “Lamine is the best player in the conference, an NBA-level player, and Jarriesse did a great job on him.”

On the offensive end, UCSB got the ball into Sow’s hands. The freshman, who scored all 11 of his points in the second half, was fouled by Mahamad Kaba-Camara and made both free throws with 44 seconds left, giving the Gauchos a 73-72 lead. 

The Matadors got the ball to Gomez at the top of the three-point arc where he was fouled by McLaughlin as the Santa Barbara guard fought his way around a screen. Gomez, who came into the game shooting 87.8% from the free throw line, made both free throws to give his team a 74-73 lead with 30 seconds to play. 

UCSB opted not to call a timeout and with 10 seconds to play, Ar’mond Davis missed a lay-up but tapped his own miss towards the left sideline where it was saved by a diving and sprawling McLaughlin, winding up in the hands of Heidegger who calmly drained another three from the same spot as the first, giving the Gauchos a 76-74 lead. 

After a timeout, CSUN’s Cameron Gottfried tried to throw a full court inbounds pass, but Santa Barbara had deployed the 6-foot-9 Sow to contest the pass and he deflected it into the backcourt where it was picked up by Darius Brown II, but all Brown II could do was heave a harmless shot from beyond half court that went wide left, sealing the Gaucho win.

“Obviously those were two very important shots by Max,” Pasternack said. “He is just now getting back to where he was before his concussion. I think we have a couple of guys we would want to take that shot, but Max is at the top of the list.” 

Pasternack also singled out the hustle play by McLaughlin that gave UCSB its game-winning dagger from Heidegger.

“What a great play by JaQuori,” he said. “This is March basketball and our guys realize that you have to play beyond yourself. JaQuori did that on that play and it helped win the game for us.” 

The game was a see-saw affair. The Gauchos led by five early and then trailed by as many eight in the first half. They clawed back to take a 44-38 lead at halftime and then extended that advantage to 12 on two occasions in the second half. But CSUN wasn’t done and take a 63-62 lead on a Diane jumper in the late with 7:44 to play. 

With UCSB back in front 66-63, the Matadors went on a 6-0 run to take a 70-66 lead with 3:40 to play, setting the stage for the dramatic final minutes.

Heidegger finished with a team-high 23 points and a career-high eight rebounds. Davis added 12 points and six rebounds, while Sow finished with 11 points and six boards. As a team, the Gauchos made just 42.2% of their shots as compared to CSUN’s 49.1%, but they had a 40-31 rebounding edge.

UCSB has now won 20 or more games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1988-89 and 1989-90.

The Gauchos will complete the regular season on Saturday when they travel to Cal Poly for a renewal of the Blue-Green Rivalry. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.