The Saddleback men's basketball team kept pace in the Orange Empire Conference with an 82-68 win over Riverside City College on Wednesday night in Riverside. Five Gauchos scored in double-figures as Saddleback turned up the offensive heat on the Tigers.
Saddleback has spent the better part of the past six weeks winning with defense but on Wednesday opted to get into a shooting match with a Riverside team that ranks in the top-10 in the state in scoring. The Gauchos beat the Tigers at their own game, shooting 60% from the floor and keeping pace with Fullerton College in the conference standings.
Saddleback took a 2-0 lead when Reggie Varner scored on a layup with 18:48 remaining in the opening half and didn't look back, never relinquishing the lead the rest of the game. The Gauchos would take a 9-2 lead when back-up post player Arash Poorsina made another layup at the 13:48 mark, while Riverside couldn't find the bottom of the net. The Tigers missed eight of their first nine shots while the Gauchos made them pay a price.
Saddleback would extend the lead to 24-12 with 7:21 remaining after Varner made back-to-back three-pointers. It was the biggest half of the season for Varner, who scored 10 points over the first 20 minutes while the Gauchos took a 38-29 lead into the locker room.
After Saddleback scored the first four points of the second half to up the lead to 13 points, Riverside made a mini run and cut the lead to 42-34 when Brandon Thomas scored for the Tigers. Unfortunately for RCC, it would be the last time they would score for nearly 3.5 minutes as Saddleback caught fire and essentially put the Tiger hopes in jeopardy. Jake Hawes capped a 10-0 run with a three-pointer, leaving Riverside with a big deficit and just over 14 minutes remaining.
The Tigers responded with a 10-0 run of their own as Riverside forced a couple of quick turnovers and buried four straight shots, including a pair of three-pointers to cut the lead to 52-44 with 12:18 remaining. T.J. Shorts and Nick Crankshaw would put an end to the run, combining for nine points over the next two minutes as the lead grew back to 15 with just over nine minutes remaining.
The teams traded baskets the rest of the way as Riverside was never able to close within 10 points. The Gauchos extended the lead to 20 with back-to-back three-pointers from Varner and Colin Ferrier with just over a minute remaining.
Shorts led Saddleback with 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting while dishing out a team-high nine assists. Varner finished with a season-high 18 points, making all six shots from the field and finishing 4-for-4 from downtown. Crankshaw finished with 13 points while Hawes had 11 and Breaon Brady, 10. Despite a cold-shooting night from the free throw line where the Gauchos made only 9-of-18 shots, Saddleback was a torrid 32-of-53 from the field in the win.
Saddleback is now 22-3 overall and 8-1 in Orange Empire Conference play following the win. The Gauchos will play again at Cypress College on Friday night. The Gauchos and Chargers are set to tip off at 5:00 PM.