The Saddleback men's basketball team stayed in the hunt for the playoffs with a 61-51 win against inter-district rival Irvine Valley College on Tuesday in Irvine. Shawn Stith scored 24 points in the win.
Saddleback entered the night at No. 18 in Southern California in the Massey Ratings and needed a win on Tuesday to keep pace for the 20-team playoffs, which start next week. Saddleback led by two with three minutes remaining before pulling away for the win.
Saddleback's defense was the key down the stretch. The Gauchos led 53-51 with 3:02 left in the game after IVC's Daniel Hernandez buried a three-pointer to get the lasers back within two. It was the last points that IVC would score as the Gaucho defense clamped down and IVC missed its last four shots of the game while turning the ball over two times in the final minute.
Saddleback was outstanding at the free throw line with the game hanging in the balance. The Gauchos made 6-of-7 free throws down the stretch as IVC had no other option other than to foul. Saddleback made 15-of-18 free throws on the night…something that has plagued them for most of the season.
Stith finished with 24 points, making 9-of-13 shots from the field. Two other Gauchos scored in double-figures as Isaiah Brooks had 15 points and J.J. Overton 13. Stith also finished with a team-high seven rebounds in the game.
Saddleback (14-13, 6-5) will finish the regular season on Thursday when they travel to Copper Mountain College (19-9, 6-5) for a 7:00 PM start. Saddleback and Copper Mountain are both tied with Riverside City College for third place in the Orange Empire Conference standings with one game to play. RCC (15-10, 6-5) finishes the season at Cypress College (8-18, 2-9) on Thursday.