Saddleback College player Wendell Faines, right, defends against Irvine Valley College player Ephraim Ekanem. (Austin MessickPres)
Sitting in the Saddleback College gymnasium last Friday evening, one might have heard an unfamiliar sound. Depending on which side of the gym, the sound would be quite different. On one side of the gym, it was the sound of the Saddleback men’s basketball teams’ seven-game winning streak clanking off the home court rims, as the Gauchos lost to Irvine Valley College 69-58.
While on the other side of the gymnasium, the sound was of 3-pointers ripping the nets, with IVC guards’ Ramon Mejia and Christian Mack combining to hit seven of 10 from beyond the arc. Orange Empire Conference leading scorer Travis Fulton continued his high scoring ways finishing with a game-high 21 points while also pulling down six offensive rebounds.
After ascending to the No. 1 ranking in the state the previous day, the Gaucho’s could not seem to hit a bucket, as they shot a season low 32 percent from the field, missing at least 10 easy layups.
“We just missed too many open shots and couldn’t seem to make a layup,” said Saddleback Assistant Coach Bob Becker.
Compounding the Gauchos shooting woes was IVC’s defensive intensity.
The game started slowly for the defending state champ Gauchos. Sophomore guard Prince Obassi missed three easy layups in the opening minutes and neither the Gauchos, or Obassi seemed able to recover. Obassi finished with 13 points on 4-12 shooting from the field.
The Lasers hounded Gauchos leading scorer Wendell Faines all evening by utilizing double, and sometimes even triple teams. It seemed the Lasers game plan was to make Saddleback’s other players beat them. The 6-foot-9 center who is headed to play for the University of Idaho next season still managed to equal Fulton’s 21 points while pulling down eight rebounds and adding four blocks to further distance himself as the clear-cut shot blocker in the conference.
Despite Faines’ numbers, IVC sophomore center Ephraim Ekanem performed admirably when forced to defend one-on-one. Ekanem also contributed a double-double on the evening, scoring 10 points to go along with 13 rebounds.
“E (sic) did a great job for us tonight. This was a big win for us – a career win” said Laser’s head coach Jerry Hernandez. “I think I might retire, now,” Hernandez joked.
With the Gauchos shooting so poorly, it enabled IVC to pull down a whopping 48 rebounds for the game. A telling stat that speaks to the level of intensity the Lasers brought to the game, is the fact 18 of IVC’s rebounds came on the offensive side of the ball.
“They killed us on the boards,” Becker said.
The game marked the end of the first half of Orange Empire Conference play for the Gauchos leaving them at 5-1 in conference, 20-4 overall. They begin the second half of conference play this Friday when they travel to Riverside Community College to battle the Tigers at JW North High School at 5:30 p.m. The game will be played at the high school due to construction at RCC’s gymnasium.
Irvine Valley is 5-0 in conference play, 18-3 overall, and has one game left before ending the first part of the OEC schedule. They look to finish 6-0 and atop the first half standings when they travel to Cypress Community College tonight to take on the Chargers at 7:30 p.m.