The Saddleback men's basketball team opened the 2018-19 campaign with a 73-68 win against Citrus College at the Fullerton College Tournament on Thursday in Fullerton. The Gauchos shot 58% from three-point range in the win.
Saddleback didn't really know what to expect, starting the season with a brand new backcourt. They ended up receiving a big gift in the way of outside shooting, as the Gaucho newcomers lit up the nets from the outside.
Saddleback was led in scoring by J.J. Overton, who finished the day with 20 points. However, it was Tyler O'Donnell, Captain Whitlock and Garrett Berger that did most of the damage from long range. The threesome finished 7-of-8 from beyond the arc, scoring 33 points between them and frustrating the Owls for most of the day. Saddleback was also dominant on the glass as Overton, Shawn Stith and Arash Poorsina combined for 14 rebounds while the Gauchos held a 32-22 advantage for the game.
Saddleback grabbed a 40-32 lead at the intermission thanks to a balanced attach. The Gauchos jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the opening minutes before Citrus bounced back to take a 6-5 lead. Saddleback then scored seven straight points behind Berger, who drilled a three-pointer at the 14:41 mark for the six-point advantage.
The two teams struggled over the next three minutes before Whitlock got into the action with a three-pointer of his own for a 16-9 advantage. O'Donnell then drained another from downtown at the 10:12 mark and the Gauchos were off and running with a 23-13 lead. On the next possession, he pumped in another and the lead grew to 26-13. O'Donnell wasn't finished, tickling the twine from beyond the arc with 7:57 remaining in the half for a 33-16 lead.
As good as the first 12 minutes were, the next seven were a near disaster as Saddleback saw its lead shrink to three. The Gauchos couldn't buy a basket, scoring just two points while going 0-for-5 from the field with four turnovers. Saddleback finally got things turned back around when Whitlock hit from long range for a 40-32 advantage with 22 seconds remaining in the half.
The second half was much tighter as both teams traded baskets over the first two minutes. The Gauchos finally made a run as they went to the inside game of Stith and Overton for a 52-40 advantage with 14:20 remaining. Saddleback then went ice cold for a second time, failing to score for nearly five minutes as Citrus came storming back to take the lead at 56-52 with under 10 minutes remaining. Overton finally answered the call with a three-point play at the 9:27 mark and followed it up with a layup two possessions later as the Gauchos grabbed back the lead.
Things grew very tight over the final nine minutes, as neither team had more than a four-point lead. The Gauchos took the lead back in the final minute when O'Donnell made a layup with 43 seconds remaining for a 69-68 advantage. On Citrus' next possession, the Owls came up empty on a missed shot that was gobbled up by Whitlock. The Owls quickly fouled with 12 seconds remaining, and Whitlock hammered home two free throws and the Gaucho lead grew to 71-68. Saddleback would again stifle the Citrus offense on their final possession, leading to two more free throws from O'Donnell for a final count of 73-68.
Saddleback will play again on Friday when they take on high-powered San Diego City College on day two of the tournament. The Knights have appeared in the last two state title games, winning the 2016-17 state championship before falling to City College of San Francisco in the 2017-18 championship game. Game time is scheduled for 5:00 PM at Fullerton College.