Gauchos forward Breaon Brady (No. 34) shoots over a block attempt against East Los Angeles College earlier in the CCCAA playoffs. Saddleback played a tough schedule in the playoffs and could not defend their state title, losing to City College of San Francisco, 68-57. (Nick Nenad)
Lyle Hexom’s 21 points and eight rebounds were not enough, as Saddleback College fell to City College of San Francisco, 68-57, in the men’s basketball California Community College Athletic Association state championship game Sunday. The Gauchos suffered only their second lose of the season and saw a 25-game winning streak snapped because of the loss.
If CCSF is familiar to Gauchos fans, it is because they played them in the football state title game earlier this season. Saddleback suffered the same fate as they did on Sunday in that game too, losing to the Rams, 26-14. Saddleback head coach Andy Ground doesn’t think there is anything to either loss.
“Not at all. It’s too good teams playing and they were the better team that evening,” Ground said.
The Gauchos did not have an easy road to the state title game even though they had home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Saddleback played two overtime games, including a come-from-behind win against Fresno City College in the state semifinals Saturday, and all but one of their games was within ten points.
“It took a toll on the team, however that’s not the determining factor of the state championship. We might have been a little tired because of the Fresno game was a tough game to battle back from,” said Saddleback head coach Andy Ground.
Saddleback got the first basket of the game Sunday, but was unable to capitalize on it and CCSF went on a quick 6-0 scoring run. The game came to a halt in the scoring department after that and midway through the first half the score was only 12-8.
Defense was a key for both teams coming into the contest. The Rams were averaging nearly 90 points-per-game and the Gauchos averaged 72.5. Both teams delivered on the defensive side of the ball during the game.
“I thought that their defensive game plan was one that they executed really well,” Andy Ground said. “They got us out of running our offensive sets by their pressure. They pressure was good in the full court and it disrupted us and that was the difference.”
Ground also gave a reason why his team played well defensively, but ultimately did not end successfully.
“We did a good job defensively other than guarding the three, which is something we’ve done well all year,” Ground said “We [also] did not defend the three-ball at all this game.”
CCSF went on another scoring run late in the first half and moved their lead to nine with a just under three minutes left in the half. When halftime arrived, the Rams had extended their lead even more, to a more comfortable 33-22.
CCSF’s Zachary Copeland and Troy Thompson led all players in scoring, combining for 21 points. Hexom and Breaon Brady led Saddleback, each having six points. The Rams shot much better than the Gauchos did from the free throw line in the first half. CCSF got to the line 14 times and converted nine points. Saddleback only had seven free throws and they only made a mediocre two shots.
When the second half began, Gauchos guard Josh Mishler made the first basket, but just like the first half, they were unable to capitalize on it. The Rams had the momentum most of the second half, until Saddleback had a small spark seven minutes in. Gauchos guard Maurice Jones hit a three-pointer to cut the CCSF lead to seven and making it seem like they would take over momentum in the contest.
Instead, Saddleback forward Daniel Young missed a wide-open put back dunk and the Rams went on another scoring run, this time putting their lead all the way 50-33, their largest of the game, with just over ten minutes to go.
From that point in the game, the Gauchos tried to make one last comeback and they eventually cut the CCSF lead to 58-47 with 3:26 remaining in the game. The Rams’ Keondre Dew hit a three-pointer on the next possession, seemingly putting the game away. After a couple of free throws and desperate shots from Saddleback, the contest ended and CCSF won the state championship, 68-57.
Forward Jalen Canty led the Rams with 16 points and nine rebounds and Copeland added a team-high 18 points on three three-pointers. Thompson also made three three-pointers and finished with 12 points.
Jones had a big game for the Gauchos, 13 points and six rebounds, along with Hexom’s near double double. Brady added ten points and five rebounds. The three players combined for 44 of Saddleback’s 57 points.
“[Hexom] carried us, he really did. He played well and he’s very talented and a very good player,” Ground said. “I just think we didn’t play well.”
CCSF beat the Gauchos in all three shooting categories. The Rams outshot Saddleback 43.1 percent to 39.9 percent from the field, 40.9 percent to 33.3 percent from the three-point line and 65.2 percent to 50 percent from the free throw line. The Gauchos out rebounded CCSF, 44-29, but the Rams had 21 points off turnovers compared to Saddleback’s 11.
Saddleback won their fifth straight Orange Empire Conference title this season, going undefeated in conference play (12-0) and finished with a 31-2 overall record. The Gauchos have only lost four games the past two seasons. They went 33-2 last season, en route to winning their third state title in school history, a feat they could not accomplish this year.
“It was a fantastic year. Any coach in America would love to be 31-2,” Ground said.