Shakir Ahmad and Aidan Mandel combined for 35 points and the San Marcos High boys’ basketball team glided past visiting Peninsula 78-59 in the first round of the CIF-SS Division 2A playoffs on Friday night.
The Royals’ transition game was clicking throughout led by the non-stop motor of Ahmad, who finished with 17 points and swallowed up nearly every loose ball.
“We knew coming in that defensive intensity was how we were going to win this game,” Ahmad said. “We watched the film and we knew that we were faster and we knew that we could crash better.”
The visiting Panthers had a formidable front line with big bodied Brayden Smith and Liam Miller anchoring inside, but Mandel was more than up for challenge for San Marcos as he finished with a game-high 18 points despite being at a significant girth disadvantage.
“I think our club season and our loaded preseason led to this. Mandel and T.J. Robinson have been seeing big kids all year,” said San Marcos High coach Jelani Hicks of Mandel battling against bigger players. “He’s big, he’s kind of slight, but he doesn’t play that way. He’s pound for pound pretty strong and he’s learned how to use his leverage.”
The Royals took an 11-10 lead on a transition layup by Jaden Reyes midway through the first quarter and never trailed again. Reyes added a three-pointer with just over a minute remaining in the first quarter that extended the San Marcos advantage to 22-13.
The visiting Panthers closed their deficit to 32-26 at the 1:45 mark of the second quarter after back-to-back buckets inside by Miller, but that’s as close as they would get. San Marcos outscored Peninsula 26-13 in the third quarter and the route was on.
“It’s tough to play 32 minutes at that speed if you’re not used to it. We practice that way and train that way so it’s hard for opponents to adjust,” Hicks said. “The games where we get the pace going in our favor we’re usually pretty good. We knew if this was a low scoring game and a slow pace that was going to suit them more than us.”
San Marcos benefited from balanced scoring as Julian Hicks contributed 14 points, Andre McCullough scored 11 points off the bench and Jaden Reyes chipped in 10 points.
The Royals will travel to Thousand Oaks for a second round game on Tuesday.