Dons pull away from Royals at Rob Gym

Santa Barbara’s boys basketball team was a big question mark in the preseason, riddled with injuries and a lineup that shuffled like a deck of cards.

But that lineup turned into a full house, and that question mark bent into an exclamation point that showed itself on Tuesday night as the Dons (11-10, 4-3) clinched second place in the Channel League with a 58-44 win over San Marcos (12-11, 2-4) at Rob Gym.

“Coach (Chris) Hantgin just did a great job of putting a core team together and just building around it. He got us a great supporting cast, and it resulted in second place,” said star senior Roberto Nelson, who scored 15 of his game-high 25 points in the first half.

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Nick Marquez finished with 11 points for the Royals, while Chris Vines and Addison Day added nine each. Vines also led the San Marcos rebounding effort with nine boards.

“I don’t think we played with the energy, heart, desire or passion we played with on Saturday night,” said San Marcos coach Jarrod Bradley, referring to the weekend’s thrilling 56-52 win over Dos Pueblos at Sovine Gym.

“Roberto’s Roberto, and he’s going to get his points, but other guys made big plays for them too. My hat’s off to them.”

The game’s key sequence came in the final two minutes of the first half. Santa Barbara’s John Uribe nailed a 3-pointer to put the Dons up 21-19 with 1:40 left. Christian Mkpado responded by hitting a pair of shots from the charity stripe to tie it back up.

But Santa Barbara caught fire in the final minute, scoring nine unanswered on two long-balls from Kyle Leonard and another from Nelson to take a 30-21 advantage into the locker room.

“We called a timeout with about two-and-a-half to go and we told the guys we wanted to finish the quarter out strong. I was hoping for a 5-0 run, and I think it was more like a 9-2 run or something like that,” said Dons coach Chris Hantgin. “We got the cushion we were looking for and it gave us a little breather going into halftime.”

Vines hit a jumper and a pair of free throws before Day took a charge to ignite what looked like a potential big run for the Royals late in the third. Bryant Koopmans made a jumper of his own to cut Santa Barbara’s lead to 39-34 with 1:30 left in the third, but Leonard pulled up for a swish from the elbow that killed the momentum.

The Dons pulled away by winning the fourth quarter 17-10.

Bradley said that Day was a bright spot for his team, saying “he gave us that passion and energy, and if we all would have played that way it would have been a different story.”

There was one thing in particular that could have made Santa Barbara’s win even better, and it came in the final minute when hard-working reserve senior Joey D’Alfonso came in and got a wide-open look at a three that had the Dons on the bench ready to explode. It rimmed out, however.

“Oh man, we’ve been practicing every day. Me and him just shoot threes together all the time, and I just wanted that last one to go in,” said Nelson.

D’Alfonso and the Dons will certainly settle with the win, however, and the fact that they are now over .500 for the first time this season.

“It’s a testament to the guys, because they stayed patient,” said Hantgin. “We’ve been climbing the mountain all year… I thought it was one of the better games we’ve had in a while.”

SANTA BARBARA 58, SAN MARCOS 44

SANTA BARBARA — Thomas 9, Uribe 5, Khalil 1, Nelson 25, Leonard 8, Lloyd 8, Fauntleroy 2. Totals 18 16-23 58.

SAN MARCOS — Vines 9, Marquez 11, Day 9, Koopmans 4, Mkpado 2, Goldsholl 2, Dodson 3. Totals 16 7-10 44.

Santa Barbara….9  21  11  17 — 58

San Marcos……..9  12  13  10 — 44

3-point goals — SB 6 (Nelson 3, Uribe 1, Leonard 2), SM 4 (Marquez 2, Day, Vines).

Team fouls — SB 12, SM 16.

Fouled out — Lloyd.

Technicals — SM Team.

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