#24 Aidan Mandel dominated the paint on his way to a game-high 21 points. | Credit: Gary Kim

Senior center Aidan Mandel scored a game-high 21 points and the San Marcos High boys’ basketball team clinched at least a share of their third consecutive Channel League title with a 52-44 victory over Santa Barbara High School on Thursday night.

The Royals trailed for much of the second half but rallied in the fourth quarter to overcome a determined effort by the Dons.

“We know once our defensive intensity starts clicking, our momentum on offense just seems to flow that much better,” said San Marcos coach Jelani Hicks. “We had a size advantage in the paint, and we wanted to exploit that as best we could.”

Santa Barbara entered the fourth quarter with a 37-34 lead and extended it to 39-34 early in the period on a pull-up jumper by Ixaka Craviotto-Velasco. From there, San Marcos put together a 6-0 run capped off by a fast-break layup by Shakir Ahmad to take a 40-39 with 5:30 remaining in the game.

The Royals’ full-court press helped them get back into the game by creating steals and easy buckets in transition. 

“Too many turnovers at the end. They got us playing too fast with that trap,” said Santa Barbara coach Corey Adam. “We couldn’t get our composure offensively. Defensively, I think we did a pretty good job.”

Freshman Luke Zuffellato was a bright spot for Santa Barbara as he scored 10 points, all in the first half, and senior guard Andre Battle knocked down three three-pointers for Santa Barbara on his way to a team-high 11 points as the Dons built up an eight-point lead midway through the third quarter.

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The Royals were clinging to a 44-43 lead when Ahmad knocked down two free throws with 2:25 to play, extending the San Marcos lead to 47-44. Neither team scored again until Mandel drained a turnaround jumper that served as a dagger to the Dons’ hopes with 51 seconds left and put San Marcos ahead 49-44. 

Hicks credited bench players Andre McCullough, Wyatt Miller, and Micah Jacobi for giving the Royals a lift. 

San Marcos will travel to Lompoc Friday for the next game, and Santa Barbara will travel to Santa Ynez. The two teams will play again Saturday in the regular season finale. 

Dos Pueblos, 55; Santa Ynez, 37

The Chargers remain in second place in Channel League with a 5-3 record. 

Cate, 64; Grace Brethren, 26

The Rams (12-3 overall, 6-0 Frontier League) remain undefeated in the Frontier League and will travel to Villanova Prep on Friday for their regular season finale. Babacar Pouye scored 23 points.

Bishop Diego, 55; Thacher, 49

The Cardinals capped off an undefeated run through the Tri-Valley League with a hard-fought win over Thacher. Kai Morphy scored 17 points.

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