With the game hanging in the balance, Jackson Gonzales took the challenge head on.
Gonzales nailed a three pointer with 1:15 to go in the Dons matchup against Crean Lutheran Saturday afternoon to give his team the lead. With 32 seconds left, Dylan Borgeson hit a three of his own to lead Santa Barbara to a 62-59 victory over the Saints at JR Richards Gym.
Gonzales had the ball well behind the three-point line when a Saints defender dared him to shoot.
“He was telling me ‘shoot it, shoot it’ and I said ‘alright I’ll take it,’” said Gonzales, who finished with 18 points. “We’ve been getting a lot of shots up in practice and I’m finally getting back in the basketball groove. It felt good to be back.”
Santa Barbara (8-6) found itself trailing 17-10 at the end of the first quarter, as the Saints stingy 2-3 zone gave the Dons some issues offensively. With less than three minutes left, Santa Barbara trailed 31-21 but the Dons were able to cut the deficit to 34-28 at the half. Crean Lutheran’s Drew Yezbak scored 13 of his team-high 21 points in the second quarter.
“We haven’t faced a lot of zone this year and haven’t had a lot of practice against zone either, so it definitely gave us some issues,” said coach Corey Adam after the win.
Santa Barbara was able to find some holes in the zone in the second half, outscoring the Saints 34-25 in the final two quarters. Bryce Warrecker, who dropped a game-high 25 points, was able to find his rhythm from deep, while Gonzales knocked down some big shots in the third quarter.
Warrecker was also able to get Lutheran’s James Agany in foul trouble, as the Saints big man recorded his fourth foul of the game with 6:10 left in the third.
“Getting their guy in foul trouble is big,” Warrecker said. “I think that was one of the changes in the game for sure.”
As the teams went back and forth in the third, Warrecker drew an offensive foul with his team trailing 46-43. Santa Barbara took a 48-46 lead a few possessions later before a right-handed floater by Vance Baldwin gave the Dons a 50-49 lead. Santa Barbara led 51-50 going into the fourth.
The Saints opened up a 55-51 lead early in the final quarter, but Santa Barbara continued to scrap and fight to stay in the game. On several occasions Gonzales dove on the floor for loose balls, including a big hustle play with 3:41 left to cause a jump ball. Although Lutheran retained the ball, the Dons were able to get the stops when they needed to.
“We do game balls and he got the game ball today,” Adam said. “Not just because of his shots but because of his hustle. Jackson has that quickness to get those guys a little rattled and stay in the play. He was key.”
Gonzales drilled a three with 2:49 left to make it 55-54 and his second three of the period put the Dons in front 59-57. Crean Lutheran continued to battle, as Yezbak tied the game with a layup with 57 seconds remaining before Borgeson’s dagger.
Crean Lutheran had a chance to tie or take the lead, but Borgeson was able to steal the ball and throw it off a Saints player to give the Dons the ball back with 21 seconds left. Gonzales missed a free throw with four seconds left, but Warrecker came down with the offensive board. Baldwin missed a free throw on a one-and-one and the Saints called a timeout with one second remaining. The Dons were able to break up a deep pass up the court to come away with the win.
“The first half we struggled, but in the second half we found our groove and came out and hit a couple of shots from the start. That fourth quarter, everybody was doing their thing and nobody was selfish out here. It was really fun basketball,” Warrecker said.
Adam was encouraged that his team was able to remain poised and focused despite the Dons not playing their best basketball.
“We obviously didn’t play our best, but what we talked about (in the locker room) was that we don’t want to peak right now anyways,” he said. “We want to peak in a month, so we need to face that adversity, not play well and beat a good team. It’s good to see them stick together, fight defensively and they just showed that grit and grime that we know we’re made of.”
While opposing team’s key in on Warrecker to slow down Santa Barbara, Adam realizes other guys will have to step up.
“I think we’re a little more balanced than people think,” he said. “Early on Bryce was getting everything because he is so dominant and can be, and guys are still trying to figure out their roles. A lot of these guys haven’t played with Bryce a whole lot and we’re still trying to learn how to play off him, so I think early on people were probably thinking we were a one man wrecking crew with Bryce, but I think you see tonight other guys start stepping up.”
In the games final minutes, the home crowd came alive. Fans were on their feet on the final few possessions and the team gave the fans plenty to cheer for.
“At home, having the crowd and playing in a tough game like that – it was a good signature win,” Gonzales said. “It was the first win where we came from behind and battled it out.”