It was the biggest moment in Noah Burke’s basketball life and the most exciting finish of a game for the Santa Barbara Dons in a long time.
In an important Channel League game against crosstown rival San Marcos at a packed and loud Thunderhut, Burke sank a shot from half court at the buzzer to lift the Dons to a stunning 56-55 overtime victory on Friday night.
It was Santa Barbara’s first victory over its rival in three meetings. More importantly, the result tightens the league race. The Dons (5-3) are now one game behind the first-place Royals (6-2) in the standings.
The Dons were trailing 55-53 after the Royals’ Jake Wheelock hit one of two free-throws with 18 seconds left. Santa Barbara almost lost the ball when a pass went through the legs of Matt Wagonhurst. But the officials ruled the ball touched the leg of a San Marcos player before going out of bounds under the basket.
Burke inbounded to Emilio Gonzalez at the low post, but San Marcos’ Uriel Hurtado managed to knock the ball out of Gonzalez’s hands. Christian Widmer of the Royals picked up the ball and, rather than hang on to it, flung it into the back court.
Burke ran back to get it in front of the Royals’ bench, took a couple of dribbles and let go the desperation 3-point shot that went through the hoop as the buzzer sounded.
Santa Barbara players and fans stormed the court and mobbed Burke as the stunned San Marcos crowd and players watched in disbelief.
“It just felt good when I let it go,” said Burke, who noted that he regularly practices shooting half-court shots. “God was on my side on that one.”
Burke was lifted onto the shoulders of the jubilant Santa Barbara fans.
“It’s like a dream. I don’t even understand this is happening right now. I felt like I was on top of the world for a couple of seconds,” he said.
“A miracle … a miracle shot,” said an almost speechless Santa Barbara coach David Bregante. “Sometimes those things happen in basketball. I can’t remember someone making a shot like that on my team in 43 years.”
While it was a disappointing ending for his team, San Marcos coach Dave Odell was impressed with Burke’s shot.
“What an impressive shot by Noah. I’ve watched him play since he was a third or fourth grader. What a night for him,” said Odell.
“I thought the decisions we made at the end are what just killed us,” Odell noted.
Santa Barbara needed a huge play just to get into overtime. Trailing 49-46 with about 24 seconds left, Burke drove the lane and was rejected by Kevin Hempy. The ball went to Brendan Fay, who whipped a pass cross court to Wagonhurst. He drove inside, threw in a shot, was fouled and made the free-throw to complete the three-point play and tie the score with 15 seconds to go.
San Marcos worked the ball for a game-winning shot, but Santa Barbara’s defense held strong and Jake Wheelock’s last-second attempt fell short.
Gonzalez led Santa Barbara (16-4) with 25 points. Jeff Paschke added 11 and Wagonhurst 10.
Kevin Hempy scored 17 points and Elijah Johnson tallied 13 to lead Santa Marcos (15-6).
Santa Barbara’s defense was a big reason it was able to pull out the win. In the previous meetings, the Dons were unable to slow San Marcos’ transition game and gave up easy baskets — they lost by 19 in the first round of league play. At the steamy Thunderhut, the Dons hit the offensive boards hard to prevent San Marcos breakouts and got back quicker on defense, forcing the Royals into a half-court game.
“That was one our points of emphasis, to stop the break,” Bregante said.”They really hurt us the last time we played at Santa Barbara.”
“I thought we were a little tentative offensively. Normally, we’re really aggressive in that regard,” said Odell.
He said an illness to Jake Wheelock slowed him and the Dons did a better job at rebounding the basketball.
“We gave up a ton of offensive rebounds,” Odell said.
The Dons had 16 offensive rebounds and outboarded the Royals 42-26.
San Marcos got its offense rolling bit near the end of the second quarter to build a 27-22 lead. Hempy started a 7-2 run with a 3-pointer and then fed Johnson for a basket. Johnson scored again on an assist from Bryce Ridenour.
Paschke scored off a feed from Gonzalez to make it 27-24 at halftime.
The Dons tied the score at 27-27 early in the third quarter, but San Marcos pushed its lead back up to five by forcing turnovers with a full-court and a half-court press.
The Royals expanded the lead to eight (43-35) when Johnson beat the Dons down court for a layup with 5:21 to go in the game.
After Santa Barbara called timeout, it went to Gonzalez in the post. He scored back-to-back baskets to cut the Royals’ lead to 43-39.
San Marcos got a free throw from Douglas and a three-point play by Widmer to lead by eight again, 47-39
Santa Barbara, however, would fight back. Gonzalez scored off an assist from Wagonhurst and Wagonhurst buried a 3-pointer to make it 47-44 with 1:31 left in the fourth quarter. It became one-point game after Burke hit a pair of free throws.
Hempy made a 15-foot jumper, and the Royals had a chance to expand the lead but they missed the front end of a one-and-one.
That would set up Wagonhurst for his clutch three-point play to tie the score at 49-49.
“We made some big plays at the end of regulation,” Bregante said. “I thought we were in trouble.”
The Royals led throughout the overtime, but six missed free throws kept the Dons within striking range.
And Burke struck them down with his half-court buzzer beater.