After playing 17 games away from home, primarily in tournaments, the Santa Monica College men’s basketball team made its debut in Corsair Pavilion last week.
SMC split two games as it began Western State Conference Southern Division play. The Corsairs lost to Bakersfield, the No. 1 rated team in the state, 108-88, on Wednesday, January 10, then defeated LA Valley, 84-71, on Saturday.
SMC has a 9-10 record. The team has been plagued by injuries, but is pleasing Coach Trevor Shickman with its effort.
“It’s a pleasure to coach this team,” said Shickman, who was an assistant to longtime Corsair coach John McMullen before taking over three seasons ago following McMullen’s retirement from coaching.
“We’ve been shorthanded due to an unusual amount of injuries. In some games we’ve had only seven players available. But the effort has been outstanding and we’ve had some good results. We reached the finals of one tournament.”
Shickman said he never experienced anything like the outside bombardment by Bakersfield’s shooters in Wednesday’s game. Bakersfield made 18 of 27 three-point attempts.
Point guard Noah Gottlieb led SMC with 23 points and forward Keivan Cross had 20.
Against Valley, Gottlieb was the high scorer with 28, Cross had 20 and forward Eric Berman played impressively and scored 10.
SMC has a new squad from a year ago. Besides the graduation of several players, the Corsairs are without 6-foot-9 center Shakir Johnson, who is attending school but not playing this year.
Johnson, a talented but late-developing player, could return next season. His activity Saturday consisted of participating in a halftime dunk contest.
Without the big man, SMC has become a small, scrappy squad. The only big man who made a contribution Saturday was 6-foot-8 Boran Rajcic, who came off the bench and was effective.
All the key players are freshmen except sophomore guard Don Choi, who was a reserve guard last season but is a starter now.
SMC took a 12-3 lead but Valley went ahead, 19-18, and progressed to a 41-38 halftime advantage.
SMC rallied to a 60-50 lead, but Valley closed the gap to 66-62. Then Choi made a lay-up and fed freshman Arthur Braswell for another, Cross scored at close range off an inbound play and Berman was credited with a basket on goal-tending.
The consistent play of Gottlieb was a major factor. The newcomer from Venice High runs the team well, makes wise decisions with the ball and is a good shooter.
Like last season, SMC will have a struggle to earn a playoff berth. Playing around the .500 level most likely won’t be enough because the conference is so strong. The Corsairs were 14-14 a year ago and didn’t qualify.
But the program is competitive and there was a large turnout of fans Saturday, many staying following the annual alumni game.
The Corsair men are playing 5:30 p.m. home games this season, with Coach Lydia Strong’s SMC women playing at 7:30. The starting times are reversed in alternate years.
The SMC women have a 10-11 record.