Nixon hits the winning shot yet again

SANTA BARBARA – This is supposed to be a week of love, but it didn’t stop Aaron Nixon to continue his year-long habit of breaking opposing teams’ hearts.

Nixon dumped UC Santa Barbara and its rambunctious yellow T-shirt-wearing fans at The Thunderdome in Santa Barbara Saturday night, sinking a 15-foot jumper with 0.4 seconds left that gave Long Beach State a 68-66 lead.

The LBSU bench celebrated Nixon’s basket a bit prematurely, with a couple members of the team rushing onto the court even though there were still a few tenths of a second left on the clock.

The bench received a technical foul for its false start, giving hope to the Gauchos, but when Cecil Brown missed his first of two foul shots and UCSB’s desperation full-court pass was intercepted, Nixon’s final second shot proved to be the difference in a 68-67 49er win.

“It’s all mental, you just got to keep shooting,” Nixon said, who uncharacteristically struggled for most of the night, going 4-for-14 from the field. “It is a good feeling. It feels great to do it again.”

With seven minutes left, the Gauchos led 64-54, but LBSU went on a 12-0 run over the next 5:14 to hold its first lead of the game since early in the first half.

The advantage was short-lived, as UCSB’s Ivan Elliot hit a layup with 1:26 left to tie the game at 66.

On LBSU’s next possession, Kevin Houston missed a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired, and the Gauchos grabbed the rebound.

Like they had most of the night, the 49ers played a pressure man-to-man defense and Nixon was able to steal the ball away from guard Alex Harris with 22 seconds left.

The senior 6-foot-2 shooting guard dribbled the ball just past the half court line and waited until there were about five seconds left until he ran inside the 3-point line and made a contested shot.

“The guys know who to go with those situations,” said LBSU head coach Larry Reynolds.

Nixon’s game-winning shot was his third in less than a year.

The first time was last March, when he hit his memorable fade away 3-pointer to shock UC Irvine at the buzzer in the Big West semifinals in Anaheim. Then, just before Christmas, Nixon sunk a 35-footer to beat Loyola Marymount as time expired.

The game against UCSB also marked the first time in three games Kejuan Johnson and Mark Dawson suited up for the 49ers.

The two were suspended Feb.1 because of possible NCAA violations concerning receiving payments for classes prior to coming to LBSU. Consequently, Johnson and Dawson missed three games.

Johnson kept LBSU within striking distance in the first half, scoring 13 points in the opening 20 minutes. Johnson finished the night with 22 points, going 8-for-14 from the field and made two out his five 3-point shots.

Sterling Byrd recovered from going 2-for-8 in the first half by scoring 14 second half points to finish the night with 19 points and 11 rebounds.

“I think Sterling Byrd was the difference in the game,” said UCSB head coach Bob Williams.

The Gauchos were led by Brown, who scored 19 points in the losing effort.

The win over UCSB, combined with Thursday night’s 80-77 win at Cal Poly, marked the first time since 2000 that LBSU swept its Central Coast road trip. The sweep kept LBSU (17-6, 8-2) at the top of the Big West standings. For UCSB (15-7, 6-3), it dropped to third-place with the loss.

LBSU will travel to second-place Cal State Fullerton (18-5, 8-3) on Wednesday night.

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