Gibson Johnson scored 18 points to lead Hawaii to a 77-76 victory over UC Santa Barbara tonight.
A crowd of 4,401 at the Stan Sheriff Center saw UH nearly fritter away a big lead against its fellow Big West Conference contender.
The Rainbow Warriors improved to 3-1 in the conference and 12-5 overall, while the Gauchos fell to 12-5 and 1-2.
Hawaii led 42-33 at halftime, with guard Brocke Stepteau leading the ‘Bows with 10 points and three assists.
Stepteau left the game early in the second half with an injured finger, but returned with about nine minutes left and finished with 12 points.
UH extended the lead to 16 points after intermission, but went scoreless for nearly four minutes midway through the second half. The Gauchos took advantage with a 13-point run, featuring three 3-pointers by Max Heidegger. The third one cut Hawaii’s lead to 55-52.
Mike Thomas then hit a layup to end the drought, but UCSB continued to nibble at the lead and closed to 64-63.
But then Jack Purchase hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key and Johnson, who was good on eight of nine shots from the floor, made a layup.
Heidegger was game-high with 22 points. Jalen Canty added 15 and Gabe Vincent and Leland King scored 11 for the Gauchos.
Stepteau finished with 12. Sheriff Drammeh and Thomas scored 11 each for the Rainbow Warriors.
UH led 76-70 when Drammeh missed two free throws with 15 seconds left that could have iced the game.
Heidegger then made a 3-pointer with 8.8 seconds left. Marcus Jackson fouled Johnson immediately on the ensuing inbounds pass.
Johnson made one free throw with 8.1 seconds left. Marcus Jackson, who scored 10 points, got off a good 3-pointer at the buzzer for the final score.