John Connolly
John Connolly of San Marcos reaches above the crowd to grab a rebound. Connolly led the Royals’ balanced attack with 12 points. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

Defense was the difference in Friday night’s “Battle for Goleta Valley” as San Marcos pitched a shutout in the third quarter of a 64-24 boys basketball rout of Dos Pueblos before a nearly packed crowd at Sovine Gym.

The Royals (11-9, 3-1) jumped ahead 12-4 after one quarter and 30-14 at the half, then blanked the Chargers (6-14, 2-2) in the third, 16-0, to stretch the lead to 46-14 entering the fourth period.

John Connolly, a 6-5 junior swingman, scored seven of his game-high 12 points in the first half. He had a two-hand dunk on a breakaway with 1:13 to go in the second quarter, kicking off a 21-0 run by the Royals.

“I thought we played great, we shared the ball a lot,” said Connolly. “We found the open man and followed our principles. We wanted to play strong defense and our motto is ‘Lock ’em up and bust ’em up’ and that’s what we did on offense and defense.”

All 14 Royals who played got in the scorebook. Shakir Ahmad contributed eight points, Will Pace had seven, Tony Njia scored five and five others had four apiece.

San Marcos started quickly with a 12-2 run, capped by a long pass from Isaiah Hicks that led to a Jeroe Bidlow layup and a follow shot by Connolly.

Baylor Houck

Dos Pueblos senior Baylor Houck blocks a layup try by Max Sheldon of San Marcos on Friday night. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

DP’s Baylor Houck opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer from the right side that cut the deficit to five (12-7), then the Royals put together an 18-7 burst to build a 16-point halftime lead. Houck, a 6-5 star receiver on the football team, hit a trio of triples and led the Chargers with 11 points.

“We came out aggressive and tried to set the tone from the start,” said junior Thomas Kinzler, who scored the first two buckets of the game for San Marcos on an offensive rebound and layup and a breakaway layin. “We have height everywhere and quickness at each position. We trust each other to switch on defense.”

Dos Pueblos struggled with its field-goal shooting and missed its first eight free throws before Niccolo Borromeo-Kendall hit a pair with 1:13 to play. The Royals made six 3-pointers and were 10-16 from the FT line.

“We’re a very balanced team and we never know who’s going to be the leading scorer,” said Royals coach Jelani Hicks. “With the flow of the game and how we were playing overall, it all came together tonight. Everybody was able to do their job. That’s something we always preach, ‘Be a superstar in your role,’ and everyone did that tonight.”

And how did they hold the Chargers without a point in the third?

“It’s not our goal to keep someone from scoring for an entire quarter but we try to limit them and make every possession tough on offense,” said Hicks. “We’ve been doing a good job of that. We’ve always been a defensive-minded team.

“Connolly played well and Isaiah (Hick’s nephew) did a good job of distributing the ball and setting the tone early. Kinzler came out with the two layups at the start. All the starters did a good job of setting the tone and hitting them first. The game was not over at halftime and we continued to make adjustments.

“We’ve been harping on playing 32 minutes and this was our most complete game of the year.”

Bidlow hit a jumper from the left elbow and Max Sheldon banked in a 3 with 0:05 to go in the third, expanding the margin to 32 points at 46-14.

“San Marcos was pretty physical and that took us out of some shots we wanted to take,” said DP coach Joe Zamora. “They made us start out further away from the basket. We’ve shot the ball well from 3-point land but tonight we shot a few too many 3’s. Give San Marcos credit, they played good defense.

“I haven’t seen our team shoot that poorly in a long time. We were 2-10 on free throws and we missed layups and shots. That can happen in a big crosstown battle like this one with a lot of people in the gym. This was the first time for some of my sophomores, being in something like this.

“They shot the ball well and rebounded well. When our average height is 5-10 and their average is 6-5, that’s going to happen. We just have to get lower the next time we play them and hopefully, it won’t be the same outcome.”

The Royals will travel to Cabrillo on Tuesday. The Chargers will host Channel League leader Santa Barbara on Wednesday at 7 p.m.