BBK: Defense carries Royals into 3AA quarterfinals

It was like a mantra being whispered in the ears of the San Marcos boys basketball players during the second half of Friday’s CIF Division 3AA second-round game against Palm Springs:

“Win or go home.”

The Royals listened and kept their season going. They outscored Palm Springs 13-6 in the third quarter to overcome a six-point deficit and came up with some big defensive plays in the fourth quarter to pull out a 41-37 victory at the Thunderhut.

San Marcos advances to Tuesday’s quarterfinal round, where it will play Diamond Ranch at the Thunderhut.

With Palm Springs leading 29-27, Peter Durak made a huge defensive play that turned the game around for San Marcos near the end of the third quarter. He drew a charging foul in the lane, and the Royals capitalized with a 3-point basket by Scott Everman for a 30-29 lead going into the final quarter.

“I was in help side and stepped inside to take that one,” Durak said of the play. “It worked out. A lot of the other guys did some great defensive things helping out. Connor (Everman) and Tyson (Miller) shut down supposedly their best scorer. He didn’t do much of anything in the second half. It was a team effort and a great win and we’re looking forward to Tuesday.”

Durak had a four steals in the fourth quarter, one of which he converted into a layup for a 34-29 lead. He also grabbed a big offensive rebound with 12.8 seconds left and hit a clutch free throw after Palm Springs tried to ice him with a timeout. That put the Royals up by four, 41-37.

Palm Springs never got off another shot, as Durak poked the ball away and it ended up in the hands of teammate Ryan McCarthy.

“Durak really did a good job,” San Marcos coach Landon Boucher said of the senior. “He got himself going at the defensive end. No. 11 (Ricky Wright) was hurting us early. He is quick enough to stay in front of him.

“Peter was just ready to play,” Boucher added. “I’m just really pumped for Peter and his effort tonight.”

McCarthy, the Royals’ point guard, expressed his appreciation for Durak’s play off the bench.

“He’s like our Energizer bunny,” McCarthy said. “He comes off the bench and he plays as hard as he possibly can every game. It’s fun to watch when he comes into the game because he’s going 100 mph. It really takes guys out of their game when he’s going that hard.”

Kele Mkpado picked up his game in the second half. He scored all seven of his points in the half and played tough defense in the paint. He blocked two shots in the fourth quarter.

“Kele came out with defense and it led to his offense. I think Kele did a tremendous job defensively,” Boucher said.

Palm Springs was quick and athletic and it gave San Marcos problems in the first half. Wright hit a couple of 3-pointers and guard John Rich penetrated the Royals’ zone defense.

San Marcos struggled at the offensive end. It went nearly six minutes without a basket in the second quarter and fell behind 21-12.

Durak and McCarthy said Boucher told the team at halftime if it wanted to keep the season going, it had to play better.

“It was do or die, our season was on the line,” said McCarthy of the mindset in the second half. “We either come out hard or we lose and our season is over. It was pretty much a win-or-go-home mentality. That’s why we came out hard.”

Said Durak; “Coach took us in the team room and made it real clear it was a win-or-go-home situation. We’re all really close on this team; we love to win and play together. We really stepped it up, we really synergized and brought all the energy together. Everybody was a spark in this game. We all came out and fed off each other’s energy; the crowd was awesome again tonight. It’s stuff like that that gets everybody going. Once we get on a run, it’s hard to stop.”

Scott Everman led the Royals (20-9) with 13 points and McCarthy added 11 points.

Wright had 14 points to lead Palm Springs (19-7).

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