Santa Monica High School boys basketball coach James Hecht gave a simple explanation in describing his team’s second-half performance against Culver City High School Friday, January 19th.
“We got going,” Hecht said.
After trailing 25-23 at halftime, the Vikings got a boost on offense in the second half that propelled them to a 66-52 Ocean League victory at home over the Culver City Centaurs (10-10, 1-3).
The Vikings (17-3, 3-1) found the offensive spark they were looking for, courtesy of senior forward Ari Feldman, who racked up 18 of his team-high 20 points in the second half, and senior guard Taylor Walker, who scored all of his 13 points in the game after halftime.
Santa Monica, the number-20 ranked team in the Southland by the Los Angeles Times, appeared to be a different team in the second half, when the Vikings overcame a slow start to the game and put on an offensive show, stretching their lead to as much as 18 points with over a minute to go in the game.
“We limited (Culver City) to one shot and on offense we shared the basketball,” said Hecht, referring to Santa Monica’s turnaround in the second half. “The bottom line is when we share the basketball, we’re much better.”
It was the second consecutive victory for the Vikings since opening up Ocean League play with a 67-49 loss at Inglewood High School Friday, January 12th. Before losing to Inglewood, Santa Monica had gone on a 14-game winning streak in the pre-league season. Hecht said the Vikings had a poor shooting performance against Inglewood and seemed to “lack the competitive fire,” but after watching videotape of that game, Santa Monica has started to turn things around.
In the game against Culver City, Santa Monica overtook the lead at 31-29 early in the second half on a field goal by Feldman, and did not let it go for the remainder of the game. The Vikings had a struggling first quarter as all five of the starters picked up two fouls each, forcing Hecht to go “deeper in the bench than we normally do.”
Santa Monica’s early 9-3 lead disappeared as Culver City went on a 10-0 run and closed out the first quarter with a narrow 13-12 advantage. The Centaurs jumped out to a 21-15 lead with three minutes remaining in the second quarter, but Santa Monica found some late momentum with a three-pointer by junior guard Justin Maxwell that tied the score at 23-23 before Culver City regained the lead in the final seconds.
A field goal by Feldman tied the score for the Vikings at the start of the second half, and kicked off a 13-4 run that would give Santa Monica a 36-29 lead.
Walker led the way on offense for the Vikings, scoring nine points in the third quarter. But Culver City was able to stay close behind despite Santa Monica’s offensive boost and trailed 44-38 at the end of the quarter, after Centaur senior Marqus Richards scored seven of his game-high 26 points.
Richards, who also grabbed ten rebounds for the Centaurs, added ten points in the fourth quarter, but was outdone as the scoring leader of the period by Feldman, who tallied 12 points for the Vikings.
The Santa Monica defense held Culver City scoreless in the final quarter until 4:25 remained, allowing the Vikings to sail to the convincing league victory. Senior guard Byan Louff was a third double-digit scorer for Santa Monica with ten points in the game and senior guard Leo Arnold Jr. contributed eight points.
Santa Monica is currently tied with Inglewood and Hawthorne high schools for first place in the league and will have its rematch game against Inglewood at home Wednesday, January 31st. The Vikings will next face host Morningside High School in a league game Friday, January 26th.