Royals wear the suit of victory against Dons

They stole the mascot, but they couldn’t steal the game.

Santa Barbara High students were somehow able to hijack the San Marcos lion mascot suit, and when it made its halftime appearance at Friday’s basketball game it kneeled down in front of the Dons student section before removing its head and revealing a kid in a green-and-yellow wrestling mask and a Santa Barbara High shirt.

It was a great gag, but on the court San Marcos refused to choke, going 12-for-14 from the free-throw line to pull out a 45-35 win and snap out of a 3-game losing streak in Channel League play. The streak began with a home loss to Dos Pueblos in which the Royals shot 10-for-24 from the free-throw line, but Johnny Manzo made all eight of his on Friday and led the way with 13 points and eight rebounds.

Thayer White made all four of his free throw attempts, but no shot was bigger than a baseline 3-pointer with two minutes to go that gave the hosts a 39-34 lead. For good measure, he nailed it right in front of San Marcos’ rabid student section.

“I caught the ball in the wing and I was open, and I just let it fly. I wasn’t really playing that great up to that point, but that was the turning point of the game and a really big three,” said the junior forward.

He also noted that free throws have been a point of emphasis over the past week.

“Free throws aren’t hard; they’re all mental. We knew we’ve been doing bad with that lately, especially against DP. So we’ve just been working really hard in practice — I know I’ve been — and I think it showed tonight,” he said.

Santa Barbara senior Daniel Marshall had 11 points and a heap of pretty assists for the Dons, who remained winless in league play but gave the defending champs a tough run for the second time this season. In their last meeting, the Royals (14-6, 3-4) eked out a 43-42 victory at the SBCC Sports Pavilion on December 17.

“I thought we played a really good game considering the environment. This is a tough situation, and I really appreciate the fact how hard our guys played… San Marcos runs a lot of plays and they’re tough. We’ll be excited for the next game,” said coach Chris Hantgin, who was as animated as they come on the sidelines during a neck-and-neck second half.

A baseline jumper by Emilio Gonzalez gave the Dons (2-17, 0-7) the lead at 24-23 with six minutes to go in the third, but Manzo answered with a trey to give the Royals a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The lead, however, would stay at four points or less until White’s big shot from beyond the arc with 120 ticks on the clock.

Both offenses struggled mightily in the first quarter, as the Royals led 7-3 to start the second. A post move and lay-up by Christian Mkpado (10 points, nine rebounds) put San Marcos ahead 23-15 with 55 seconds left in the first half, but Marshall buried a 3-pointer before the intermission to cut the advantage to 23-18 heading into the locker room.

The stolen mascot trick was a response to San Marcos students painting the Dons’ cow statue — which rests atop Cities Barbecue on Milpas and Canon Perdido — blue and red earlier this week. The student sections were buzzing throughout the game, making for quite an atmosphere.

“This is what you dream about as a kid growing up… It’s a thrill, it’s a rush and it’s really fun,” said White.

SAN MARCOS 45, SANTA BARBARA 35

SANTA BARBARA — Aronson 3, Gonzalez 2, Hale 4, Marshall 11, Busch 2, Fay 6, Lopez 2, Cohen 5. 14 3-4 35.

SAN MARCOS — Manzo 13, Hempy 2, Mkpado 10, Ridenour 6, Vasquez 5, White 9. Totals 14 12-14 45.

Santa Barbara…3  15  12  5 — 35

San Marcos…7  16  9  13 — 45

3-point goals — SB 4 (Fay 2, Marshall, Aronson), SM 5 (Ridenour 2, Manzo, White, Vasquez). Total fouls — SB 17, SM 9. Fouled out — None. Technicals — None.

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