If you haven't seen the Citrus Men's Basketball team play this year, then you wouldn't have been surprised that they went into halftime down 13. But for those who have followed the team all year, the shock factor was major.
Antelope Valley visited the Owl's Nest tonight and quickly went to work taking it to Citrus' defense. The Marauders meant business and made it clear they had been working really hard to prepare for the Owls. That was evidenced by their flawless defensive rotations to cover the sharp shooting Owls on the perimeter that rendered them incapacitated, and their aggressive offensive sets that looked to be focused on lane penetration. Antelope Valley shot the lights out in the first half, draining 52% of their shots from the field and 37% from behind the arc. Citrus had the most uncharacteristic shooting half of the season with only 28% of their shots falling from the field.
But again, if you've seen the Owls play this year, then you know that Head Coach Brett Lauer always has a few tricks up his sleeve. Coach Lauer had a heart to heart with his team at halftime and apparently it worked. Citrus came out on fire, lighting up the Marauders from the three point line, outworking them on the boards, picking off errant passes, stopping penetration of their bigs and drawing loads of fouls on aggressive lane penetrations.
The Marauder bench, stunned by the Owls dominating play, attempted to rally their squad, but Citrus just kept pounding. Point Guard Jeremy Smith didn't have his best shooting night of the season, but his intangibles and trusty ball handling played a huge role in the best comeback of the season so far for Citrus. Sharp shooter Alexios Ziska, one of the steady three point shooting threats for the Owls this year, rained down on the Marauder basket, draining a ridiculous 7 three pointers on the night, which ties for third all tie at Citrus for threes in a game. Shooting 70% from the arc, Ziska single handedly deflated the Marauders' confidence on more than one occasion. Also with a strong performance was jack-of-all-trades Kyle Gray, who has been finding his teammates for open shots all season and weaving his well rounded skillset through the fabric of the Owls team. Gray pulled down a hard earned 15 rebounds, dished 5 assists, snagged 2 steals and blocked a pair of shots. Miles Crawford, who smelled blood in the Marauder paint in the second half, took the ball to the rack several times when the defense got caught wide when they double teamed the perimeter shooters, much to the delight of the Citrus bench. Crawford ended the night with 10 points and 5 rebounds.
Citrus now stands alone as the leader of the Western State Conference East after handing Antelope Valley their first conference loss of the season. The Owls move to 21-3 on the season, and 4-0 in conference. Citrus laces them up next this Saturday when they travel to Barstow to finish the first round of conference play. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:00 PM.