The No. 2 Hornets faced their biggest test of the season at home Monday night and passed with flying colors as they defeated No. 3 Santiago Canyon College 71-65.
It was a conference game between the best defense in the state (Fullerton) and the second best offense in the state (Santiago Canyon). By the latest California Community College Men's Basketball Coaches Association (CCCMBCA) poll, the Hornets are ranked No. 2 in the state, while the Hawks are ranked No. 3. San Francisco in the North is ranked No. 1 with the top overall offense. According to the latest Massey ratings, SCC is No. 2 and FC is No. 3 in state.
In a battle of undefeated teams, Fullerton remains so at 16-0 overall and 5-0 in the Orange Empire Conference, while Santiago Canyon takes its first loss of the season sitting at 16-1 overall and 4-1 in the OEC.
With the weight of the conference title on both teams' shoulders, the game got off to a hot start immediately trading shots. SCC hit a couple of three's to take a 17-14 lead by 12:40. Soon after, FC's Omajae Smith drove the lane and was fouled as the ball bounced in for two. He converted the free throw to tie the game up at 17-17.
At 5:31 SCC took their largest lead of the game (9) when AJ Garrity pulled up for a three-pointer to put the team up 27-18. Fullerton hit a dry spell going 6 minutes without a basket. Reeling, the Hornets called a timeout to regain their focus.
It worked. Fullerton fought back as DJ Houston cut the Hawk lead down to two (27-25) on a mid-range jumper at the two-minute mark. The first half ended with Santiago Canyon holding a slight 29-27 edge.
The Hornets continued to push on when Houston nailed another three putting the team up 45-39 at 14:25.
By 7:57, Fullerton owned their largest lead of the game (9) at 55-46, but the undaunted Hawks came storming back thanks to a couple of three point shots by Garrity and Antoine Jenkins.
A high-flying lay-in by Antoine Jenkins cut the Hornet lead down 61-58 with a minute left. Santiago Canyon was back in the game, but had three of its starters (David Agba, Lucas Holden, and Paul Viela) with four fouls each. For the time being it did not matter as a Hornet turnover gave Viela a chance to hit a three pointer with 20 seconds left in regulation tying it up 61-61.
The game would go into overtime, and Fullerton did not let the home-crowd down. RJ Knibb powered the ball in, Omajae Smith hit a couple of free throws, and two Hawk players fouled out (Agba and Holden).
Up 69-65 with 10 seconds left in the game, Houston iced the game with two successful free throws.
The No. 1 defense in the state proved to be too much for the Hawks as Fullerton held them to 24.4% from three-point land and 31.5% total. It was the lowest point output by SCC this season since its 73-66 win over MiraCosta last November 6th.
DJ Houston had his biggest game as a Hornet pouring in a game-high 31 points with 10 rebounds for a double-double. Jacob Eyman put up 16 points with 10 boards for a double-double night, and Omajae Smith also had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Harrison Bonner had 6 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Ronnie Stapp contributed 5 points had 7 assists, and 7 rebounds.
Up Next: No. 2 Fullerton (16-0, 5-0) hits the road this Wednesday, January 15th when they take on Orange Coast College for another Orange Empire Conference contest. Tipoff is at 5:00 pm.
*Photo by Matt Brown