Hopelessly out of contention against the best men’s basketball team in the Western State Conference Southern Division, Santa Monica College went on a three-point shooting rampage in the final four minutes Wednesday, February 13 that will be one of their season highlights.
The Corsairs made seven three-point baskets down the stretch but still lost to Citrus College, 75-65, in Corsair Pavilion.
As Citrus clinched its first-ever conference championship with a 10-0 record and improved to 28-1 overall, SMC was left with a 2-8 conference record and fading playoff hopes.
But the Corsairs demonstrated that a team can battle, regardless of the deficit, and make a final outcome respectable.
The game showed the difference between an advanced program and a new one. Citrus Coach Rick Croy is in his third year at the school and Jesse Teplitzky is in his first at SMC.
Croy has a team that is strong on defense and unselfish. One player had 11 points and nobody else was in double figures, but all 10 who played scored at least five points.
Citrus led at halftime, 37-15, holding SMC to 23 percent shooting. The visitors increased the lead to 26 points in the second half.
And then, without any hint of what was to follow, the Corsairs exploded.
Noah Gottlieb, SMC’s all-conference point guard last season who was moved to off-guard and even small forward this season, returned to the game with 4:30 to play following a brief rest and took over the point.
Suddenly, it was like last season when the graduate of Venice High ran the offense, penetrated the defense, drew double-teams, and either scored or passed to open teammates.
Gottlieb, who finished with 26 points and six assists, made a three-point shot, fed Ryan Avilez for successful three-pointers three times, and fed Keivan Cross for a three-pointer. Then Gottlieb made another.
It was a sensational spree but too late, and it only reduced a deficit in excess of 20 points to 10.
Cross had 11 points and Avilez 10.
SMC played without Calvin Mitchell, one of its’ point guards. He left the team a week earlier and is expected to transfer and play elsewhere next season.