Fighting Owls find old swag

[Javier Galaviz] Sophomore Guard Jordan Mackie (#10) inbounds the ball during the Owls’ 90-81 win over El Camino Compton Center Nov. 28.

After already surpassing last season’s loss total, the Owls men’s basketball team seems to have recaptured some of the magic from the program’s 2011-12 Final Four run.

Despite an early 17-point deficit, an abundance of turnovers and abysmal outside shooting, the Owls (5-4) pulled out a 90-81 comeback road win over the El Camino College Compton Center Tartars (4-2) Nov. 28.

Citrus looked sluggish and lethargic in the beginning of the first half. The Tartars utilized an effective combination of full-court press and zone defense to stymie the Owls, racing out to a 20-8 lead.

Tartar guard Christopher Miller was then the beneficiary of back-to-back Darius Middleton turnovers, knocking down a corner 3 and a fastbreak layup to extend his team’s lead to 25-8 at the 12:02 mark, prompting a timeout from Citrus head coach Chris Victor.

“They came out and played great,” Victor said. “We were not ready, obviously.”

Inexplicably, the Tartars decided to abandon the press and settle into a defensive shell for the last 10 minutes of the half. Though it didn’t have much effect on the Owls’ perimeter shooting—they finished 3-for-20 from 3-point land on the night—the athletic Citrus guards quickly took advantage, effectively using isolation plays to knife through the 2-3 for easy buckets at the rim to whittle the Tartar halftime lead to 42-40.

“We got away from the gameplan a little bit,” said ECC Compton head coach Kevin Higgins.  “I thought the pressure we had on them was working, and we made them speed up . . . Sometimes, you get a little success and you forget how you got it. We became passive instead of aggressive, and [Citrus] is really, really good when you’re passive.”

After the break, the Owls emerged from their locker room much more energized they did in the opening stanza. Sophomore center Brent Watkins, who finished with 14 points on a perfect 7-of-7 from the field, tied the game up with a short lay-in on the Owls’ first possession following the intermission.

That bucket eventually led to Citrus forward Steven Thorton Jr. completing an and-1 opportunity to give the Owls a 53-51 lead just before the 5-minute-mark of the half. Thorton Jr. finished with a game-high 23 points, with the hoop and harm giving Citrus their first lead of the game.

“[Steve’s] got a lot of tools and he’s been playing a lot more comfortably lately,” Victor said. “He’s still getting used to the system and the program, so as he gets more comfortable, he’s going to be great.”

Thorton Jr. would go on to put the game away for Citrus when he pulled down two offensive boards off his own misses, padding his rebound total to a team-high 9 before making good on the third attempt, giving the Owls an 84-76 lead with 3:02 remaining.

“We couldn’t shoot at all,” Thorton Jr. said. “But we figured it out, got by [the ECC defenders], and everybody was finishing well.” “[We’re] going to get back in the gym, shoot a little more, and try to be more composed next time,”

Citrus is scheduled to play in the opening game of the four-day Riverside Community College Tournament today.