Santa Ana — Crucial plays down the stretch led the Saddleback men’s basketball team to its first conference victory and 10th victory of the season Friday.
Atypical of their characteristic second-half struggles, the Gauchos boosted their shooting percentage from 41 percent to 50 percent to power their way to the 71-69 victory.
Two teams with almost identical records led to a tight race until the clock read zero. The Gauchos were outscored 32 to 29 in the first half, but they came into the second half with the desire to win, outscoring Santa Ana 42 to 37.
After a foul was called on Saddleback, and Santa Ana got to the free throw line, things were looking down. They missed a free throw, and then down the stretch the key for the Gaucho team was a crucial steal in the last minute of the game. This then led to points from free throws and put the Gauchos on top.
Saddleback coach Nick Booker commented on why this game led to a win, and what the team improved on since their last time out.
“We hung around. [The last game] gave us a lot of confidence although we lost,” Booker said. “We understand if we play hard the whole entire game and focus on possession-to-possession, we have a chance to stick around and get a win.”
When the Gauchos visited No. 10 Riverside College, Wednesday, they came back from a 14 point deficit at halftime to cut the Tigers’ lead to two points with 30 seconds left in the game. While Saddleback fell, 72-68, their second-half stand marked dramatic signs of improvement to their slow conference start.
Sticking around till the end was exactly what this Gauchos team did Friday night in Santa Ana. Darryl Best had a double-double, finishing with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Cornell Jenkins led all scorers with 27 points and seven rebounds. Chris Rentie also had 12 points to contribute to the team’s win.
The Gauchos play their next game on Wednesday at home against Cypress.