Despite a lopsided victory the first time around, Tony Njia knew he left plays on the floor.
The Royals senior was limited to just five points when they took on the Chargers Jan. 17, but exploded for 25 points Friday night in San Marcos’ 85-40 win over its crosstown rival.
“The last time we played them, I watched film and I figured out that a lot of lanes were open,” Njia said postgame. “And today I just went for it. There were a lot of lanes and they aren’t as strong as me. I went up strong and I finished, and I saw a lot of open shots.
“I just made sure I was under control and took what they gave me.”
Njia and the Royals were relentless from the opening tip, jumping out to a 9-0 lead by the four minute mark of the first quarter. With 3:01 left from the first, DP’s Baylor Huyck hit from way downtown to cut the deficit to 12-5, but San Marcos would pull ahead 17-5 before calling for reinforcements. The bench bunch of Shakir Ahmad, Max Sheldon, Jeroe Bidlow and Tommy Condon were terrific from the get-go.
Ahmad recorded a steal and a basket shortly after checking in, before Condon drained a 3-pointer to make it 22-5 with 1:37 left. Senior Will Pace was able to hold his own down low, converting a layup and scoring off an offensive rebound to help the Royals build a 28-10 lead after the first.
San Marcos (14-9, 6-1 in Channel League) opened the second quarter with a 7-0, capped off by a layup from Njia.
A 3-pointer by Njia pushed the lead to 40-15 with 2:34 left in the first half. After a three from DP’s Kael Rillie, Isaiah Hicks knocked down a floater, followed by a field goal by Josh Willbanks, before Njia converted an acrobatic layup and was fouled. He went on to convert the free throw to make it 47-18 with 1:34 left in the second.
Huyck’s triple with 22 seconds left in the half made it 50-25 at the break.
The Royals continued with their pressure defense and strong play in the second half, opening the third on a 16-5 run. All 16 points were scored by Njia, Hicks and Condon, who were able to hit from distance and wreak havoc in the paint.
With just over a minute left in the third, Njia finished off his night in style. He drove the lane, tossed the ball off the glass and tumbled to the ground as the ball banked in off the glass. He could only smile as he went to the foul line to finish off the three-point play.
“We know what we have and we know that when we play together we’re a hard team to beat, so we just stuck to the script,” Njia said. “We did not over think. We came here and played hard and just executed.”
San Marcos took a 73-33 lead into the fourth quarter. There was a running clock from the 6:38 mark of the fourth quarter, as the Royals outscored the Chargers 12-7 in the final period.
After defeating DP 64-24 on Jan. 17, several San Marcos players said they tried to match that same intensity on Friday night. Isaiah Hicks said that several Chargers said the previous matchup was a fluke, and the Royals wanted to assert their dominance.
“They said that last game was lucky, and we just kept that in the back of our head and kept the same mentality and doubled our score,” Hicks said. “That’s all we could do, just go play ball. We just stayed in our game, played hard and kept our game plan.”
After the game, San Marcos coach Jelani Hicks said his team has been trying to build the proper habits as they look to attain at least a share of the Channel League title.
“We’re real big on habits,” he said. “It doesn’t matter the score… because we’ve gotten beat by 40 or 50 points at times… and we’ve beaten teams by those amounts, so its more about their habits and how we approach things every single day. We’re not playing the score, whether we’re up or down, we’re just trying to do things the right way and just follow our principles every day.”
He said the team still feels as if they have plenty to prove down the stretch.
“We don’t feel like we’ve hit our peak yet,” Hicks said. “We’re establishing that we have weapons and there are more that we’re developing.
“We’re starting to get our guys clicking at the right time, and together, so that’s looking good.”
Midway through the second quarter, San Marcos’ Ben Partee committed an offensive foul and went down hard, immediately grabbing his back. The Royals signal caller, who recently announced his commitment to play football at Gannon University in Erie, PA, did not play the second half. Regardless, Hicks was impressed that the senior was willing to put his body on the line.
“That’s part of the reason that he’s on the team,” Hicks said. “At the end of the day, he’s a competitor and he’s a tough competitor.
“We have 15 guys on the roster, everyone’s fighting for minutes. We’ve finally got them to realize that it’s fun to play that way. Obviously we don’t want anybody getting hurt, but when you’re giving it out on the line, you can kind of be happy with the results whether they go in your favor or not.”
The Chargers (7-17, 3-5 in Channel League) will look to regroup when they host Lompoc at 7 p.m. Monday. The Royals will travel to Santa Ynez Tuesday before hosting Cabrillo to close out the regular season.