The Saddleback men's basketball team took down the No. 5 ranked team in the state on Wednesday night with a 62-61 win over Fullerton College in Fullerton. The Gauchos now sit atop the Orange Empire Conference standings and have won three straight games.
Saddleback went into Wednesday's game as the prohibited underdog, playing a Fullerton program that played for the state title last season and came in ranked No. 5 in the state. The Gauchos left on top of the conference standings after beating a second straight rival for a 2-0 start.
Saddleback and Fullerton never let one another get more than a six point lead throughout the entire game. Saddleback opened the game by taking a four-point the lead over the first five minutes before Fullerton made a move. It was the largest lead the Gauchos would have the whole game as the Hornets matched them, basket-for-basket.
Fullerton led 36-34 at the half after making 4-of-6 from three-point range and 8-of-10 from the free throw line. The Gauchos kept it close with a big half from Shawn Stith, who finished with 13 points and six rebounds in the opening 20 minutes.
Saddleback turned to J.J. Overton in the second half. Overton scored nine of the first 11 points for the Gauchos in the second half in taking back the lead at 47-44 with 16:15 remaining.
The Gaucho offense then went quiet as Fullerton grabbed back the lead. Saddleback went 6:13 without scoring a point, but managed to keep the game close with some stingy defense. Fullerton grabbed a four-point lead at 51-47 after Ronne Readus made a pair of free throws with 10:29 remaining. The Gauchos then scored six straight points to take back the lead as the defense continued to stifle a potent Fullerton offense.
Neither team would have bigger than a four-point lead over the next eight minutes as Fullerton built a 61-57 lead with 2:44 remaining. That's when Saddleback made Fullerton disappear, holding the Hornets scoreless the rest of the game to steal the win.
Saddleback got back within one when Reggie Varner buried a three-pointer with 1:37 remaining on the clock. It was Varner's only basket of the game after missing three shots from long range earlier in the game.
Saddleback quickly took a timeout in order to set up a good plan on defense. It worked, as Fullerton turned the ball over on a steal by Overton, who turned it into a dunk with 1:08 left on the clock for their first lead in over seven minutes.
Saddleback needed to survive one more possession to hold on for the win. They did when Jason Richardson missed a short jumper for Fullerton, giving them a 62-61 win over a program that has quickly become their arch rival.
Stith and Overton both finished with a team-high 17 points while Colin Ferrier came off the bench to add 11 points. The Gauchos held a 32-27 lead on the glass, with Ferrier finishing with a team-high eight rebounds.
The win gives head coach Andy Ground a 5-2 record against his former apprentice, Perry Webster, who was a player and an assistant coach under Ground before taking over the Fullerton program in 2015-16. It also extends Saddleback's record to 10-8 overall and 2-0 in Orange Empire Conference play.
Saddleback will look to improve on the three-game win streak on Friday when it travels to Orange Coast College to take on the Pirates (11-7, 2-1). Orange Coast was also surprise winners on Wednesday night with a 90-83 win over Santiago Canyon College. The Gauchos and Pirates are scheduled to tip off at 5:00 PM on Wednesday in Costa Mesa.