The Saddleback men's basketball team defeated Santiago Canyon College, 68-66, on Wednesday night at the Saddleback Gymnasium. The Gauchos held the Hawks to a season-low in points while Isaiah Brooks had a season-high 24 points.
Saddleback knew it would be a tough struggle facing a Santiago Canyon squad that is third in the state in scoring at just over 90 points-per-game. The Gauchos dialed up an old friend as their defense held the Hawks in check for their lowest scoring game of the year.
It looked like it would never happen in the opening minutes as Santiago Canyon took a 12-3 lead by burying their first four shots from beyond the arc. They later equaled the nine-point advantage when Rodney Henderson scored to give the Hawks a 17-8 advantage with 13:46 remaining in the opening half.
That's when the Saddleback defense took over. The Gauchos held Santiago Canyon scoreless for 3:54 while taking over a 20-17 lead. Brooks was the catalyst, scoring eight straight points in just over a minute. Saddleback later extended the lead to five when Brooks made a layup for a 27-22 advantage. The freshman from Westlake High School would finish with a team-high nine points in the opening 20 minutes as the Gauchos carried a 34-28 lead into the locker room.
The second half started the same way as the first, as Santiago Canyon came out red hot. The Hawks rattled off the first 10 points of the half in taking back the lead at 38-34 with 17:17 remaining. Again it was Henderson, who drained a pair of shots from beyond the arc and another from short range as the Gauchos had no defensive answer for the sophomore who came into the game fourth in the state, averaging 25 points-per-game.
Much like the first half, Saddleback then settled down and grabbed back control. The Gauchos again dug in on defense, stifling the high-powered offense. Saddleback held Santiago Canyon scoreless for another 3:55 while grabbing back the lead. This time it was Devonte Evans, who came off the bench and gave the Gauchos a spark. Evans had a steal on his first possession in the defensive end and then converted a layup in the other end after a solid feed from Brooks for a 42-41 lead.
The game would remain tight the rest of the way, with neither team leading by more than four points until late in the game. The Gauchos would finally extend the lead to six at 53-47 with 6:26 remaining when Brooks made a jumper in the paint. He later buried a three-pointer with 3:39 remaining as they maintained a 58-53 lead. Brooks would connect again with 1:16 remaining and then connected on two free throws with 41 seconds remaining as Saddleback extended the lead to 64-58.
Santiago Canyon would not die. The Hawks would close within three when Marcus Swain buried a three-pointer with 26 seconds remaining. Following a Santiago Canyon foul, Reggie Varner made 1-of-2 free throws with 17 seconds remaining to extend the lead to four. The Gauchos then got careless in the defensive end, fouling Hawk guard AJ Garrity on a three-point shot. Garrity made good on all three free throws as the lead dropped to one with seven seconds remaining. Santiago Canyon then fouled Brooks with three seconds on the clock. Brooks would also make 1-of-2, giving Santiago Canyon a chance to steal the game. The Hawks quicky got down the court, only to see Garrity dribble into a crowd and lose the ball in the final second.
Brooks finished with a season-high 24 points, making 9-of-12 from the field. Henderson finished with a game-high 29 points for the Hawks, making 5-of-10 from beyond the arc.
The win puts Saddleback at 11-9 overall and 3-1 in Orange Empire Conference play. The Gauchos are now in third place overall, trailing both Fullerton and Orange Coast by a half game. The loss leaves Santiago Canyon at 14-6 overall and 1-3 in OEC play.
Saddleback will play again on Friday when they travel to Riverside. The Gauchos and Tigers are scheduled to tip off at 5:00 PM.