The Saddleback men's basketball team held off Santiago Canyons for a 78-68 win in men's basketball on Friday night at the Saddleback Gymnasium. Shawn Stith scored 23 points as the Gauchos improved to 3-1 in Orange Empire Conference play.
Saddleback went into the game trying to bounce back from a disappointing loss to inter-district rival Irvine Valley College on Wednesday night. The Gauchos didn't disappoint the home crowd, trailing only once throughout the entire game in moving within a half game of first place in the OEC standings.
Saddleback fell behind briefly with 12:40 remaining in the opening half when Ajdin Toskic made a layup to put the Hawks up 15-14. The lead lasted exactly 28 seconds as Ryan Beddeo answered with a layup of his own and the Gauchos were off and running. Saddleback would hold Santiago Canyon to just two points over the next four minutes in building up a 24-17 lead. The Gauchos would eventually build a 41-32 lead heading into the locker room as both Shawn Stith and J.J. Overton had 10 points in the opening 20 minutes. In addition, the Gauchos had a sizeable advantage on the glass, outrebounding the Hawks 22-14 in the opening half.
The opening half wasn't all good news, however, as Saddleback was whistled for 13 fouls in the opening frame. It would prove costly down the stretch for a handful of Gauchos as Sean Birk, Nik Lipovic and Shawn Stith would all foul out of the game in the second half, with two others finishing with four fouls.
Despite the foul disparity, Santiago Canyon had problems shooting from long range and missed a number of free throws, never making a serious run. The Gauchos maintained an 8-to-12 point lead for most of the second half and never let Santiago Canyon get within six until 27 seconds remaining in the game. The Gauchos responded by making four straight free throws before Kwan Clements slammed home a thunderous dunk in the final seconds.
Stith finished with a game-high of 23 points and nine rebounds, making 8-of-9 shots from the field. Paulo Araujo led the Hawks with 19 points in a losing effort.
Saddleback is now 12-8 overall and 3-1 in Orange Empire Conference play following the win. The Gauchos will try to keep pace in the Orange Empire Conference with two games on the road next week. Saddleback will travel to Orange Coast College for a 5:00 PM start on Wednesday against the Pirates. The Gauchos will then play at Santa Ana College on Friday night at 5:00 PM.