The Saddleback men's basketball team improved to 9-1 in Orange Empire Conference play with an 81-66 victory over Orange Coast College on Thursday night in the Saddleback Gymnasium. Shawn Stith had 18 points and eight rebounds in the win.
Saddleback retained at least a share of the Orange Empire lead with the win on Thursday night, but it took some time to put away an Orange Coast squad that opened the night in last place and looking for a trophy win. The Gauchos won the game in the final eight minutes, outscoring the Pirates 29-14 down the stretch.
Saddleback was the much bigger team and it showed on the stat sheet. The Gauchos held a 39-28 advantage in rebounds for the game as Stith and Arash Poorsina combined for 32 points and 13 rebounds. Saddleback also had a huge advantage in free throw attempts, making 20-of-33 for the night while the Pirates had just 15 attempts for the game.
Saddleback bolted out of the gate in the opening half, taking a 9-0 lead in the opening three minutes of the game. The Gauchos returned the favor in the second half. After leading 42-33 at the intermission, Saddleback went nearly 3.5 minutes without a point as Orange Coast whittled the lead down to six before Stith finally stopped the run with a layup. Unfortunately, the Pirates would again score the next six points and the lead was down to two. Orange Coast would eventually tie the game at 52-52 when Malik Skillern drained two free throws at the 7:50 mark.
From that point forward, Saddleback was in total control. The Gauchos dug in defensively, forcing a number of bad shots from the Pirates. They also caught the Pirates in a number of odd-numbered breaks, getting some easy baskets in transition. Kwan Clements started the run with a layup and later had another off a fast break for a 62-56 lead. J.J. Overton also took an outlet pass from Stith and raced the length of the court for an easy layup and a 67-59 lead. The final dagger came in the closing moments when Clements fed Overton on an alley oop jam with 11 seconds remaining for a 15-point lead.
Saddleback is now 18-8 overall and 9-1 in Orange Empire Conference play with two games remaining in the season. The Gauchos travel to Riverside City College next Wednesday before hosting Fullerton College in what could be a conference title game on Friday. Both games are scheduled for 5:00 PM.