#1 Luke Zuffellato scored 40 points against Buena. | Credit: Victor Bryant

Sophomore Luke Zuffelato scored 40 points and the Santa Barbara High boys’ basketball team defeated Buena 87-77 in the Channel League opener for both teams on Monday night at JR Richards Gymnasium. 

Zuffelato’s 40 points were the sixth-highest single-game scoring outburst in Santa Barbara’s program history.

Santa Barbara was clinging to a 34-32 lead at halftime, but a strong third quarter broke the game open and led to a crucial early season victory.

“You never say it’s a must-win this early in the year, but we definitely didn’t want to take a loss in the first game of league, in early December,” said Santa Barbara coach Corey Adam. “Buena is a good team. We’re going to have to play them again, but it’s a tough league. I think Oxnard is the head of the class, but Buena is right there with them.”

Zuffelato was red-hot from the opening tip. He scored 16 points in the first quarter, including four of his seven three-pointers as the Dons took a 22-19 lead into the second quarter.

“In warmups I could just feel it, and once the first one went in, I just kept with it and kept shooting,” Zuffelato said. “ That’s what shooters do.”

The two teams battled back and forth until halftime, but Santa Barbara opened the third quarter with an 11-4 run that was capped off by a corner three-pointer by sophomore Carter Battle, who finished with 19 points, that extended the lead 53-38 with just under two minutes remaining in the third quarter. 

Julian Espinoza added a three-pointer in the final minute of the third quarter that increased the Santa Barbara lead to 56-40, but a layup just before the third quarter buzzer by Buena’s Sebastian Hernandez cut the Bulldogs’ deficit to 57-44 going into the fourth quarter. 

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“We missed some shots in the third quarter, and it turned into their offense,” said Buena coach Matt Colton. “That was kind of the difference.”

Buena cut its deficit to 57-48 at the 7:20 mark of the third quarter on a three-pointer by Daniel Ortiz, but never got closer. Battle’s third and final three-pointer with 3:30 remaining in the game increased the Santa Barbara lead to 74-61. 

Zuffelato inserted the final dagger with just over two minutes to play with his seventh three-pointer to give Santa Barbara an 81-66 lead.

“I shot probably a thousand shots last night. I didn’t feel good about my shooting, and my shot didn’t feel great, but my dad told me I shot between 50-60 percent,” Zuffelato said. “I took that, put it in my brain, and kept shooting today.” 

Finn Whipps was solid inside for Santa Barbara (4-3 overall, 1-0 Channel League) and finished with 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting from the field. Tobin Shyrock and Julian Espinoza chipped in seven points apiece.

Colin Guenther and Daniel Ortiz led the way for Buena (4-2 overall, 0-1 Channel League) with 18 points apiece. Zane Carter added 14 points with excellent efficiency. 

Oxnard, 74; San Marcos, 33

The Yellowjackets made a statement in their Channel League opener by routing defending league champion San Marcos. Oxnard improved to 5-0 with the victory. San Marcos dropped to 2-4.

Rio Mesa, 72; Dos Pueblos, 64

The Chargers dropped to 0-3 on the season and 0-1 in Channel League play. They will travel to San Luis Obispo for a tournament beginning Friday. 

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