A returning starter for the Santa Barbara High boys basketball team, Jasper Johnson hadn’t played much this season because of illness and an injury.
He was fine form in Friday night’s crosstown rivalry game against San Marcos before a full house at the SBCC Sports Pavilion.
With 1.1 seconds left in regulation, the score tied at 43 and Santa Barbara taking the ball out on the baseline to the left of the basket, Johnson broke off a stack of players, rose up and scored off Stephen Davis’ perfect inbound lob to give the Dons’ an amazing 45-43 Channel League victory over the Royals.
Johnson, who also hit two big three-pointers off the bench in the second quarter and gave the Dons a 39-38 lead with a trey early in the fourth quarter, finished with 15 points to share high-scoring honors with Bryce Warrecker. Davis had 12 points.
“It was good,” said Johnson about finally being able to contribute. “I haven’t been playing a lot. I was sick and injured and just kind of getting back into it “It was good to get out there with my teammates. We fight hard. We’re not going to give up easy.”
Johnson said the game-winning play was called by assistant Greg Blessing.
“He drew it for me and I said, ‘Why not Bryce (the 6-9 Warrecker)? He’s the biggest man on the court, no one can stop him.’ (Blessing) said, ‘No, this one is going to you.’ And we just executed it. We ran our stuff, we fought hard and we got the dub.”
Jasper Johnson finishes a lob from Stephen Davis with 1.1 seconds left to lift Santa Barbara to a 45-43 win over San Marcos at a packed SBCC Sports Pavilion pic.twitter.com/6fyS2fZquf
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Johnson missed a three-point shot and the ball was knocked out of bounds, giving the Dons one last try at the win. They called time out to set up a play.
Santa Barbara’s Corey Adam, who was coaching in his first crosstown game as head coach of the Dons, lauded Blessing for designing the play.
“I said, ‘Please, please tell me you got it.’ He had it and I said, ‘So let’s do it. We didn’t want to do something we’ve been doing. I got a good coaching staff and I’m willing to give them the clipboard and let them draw things up.
“Credit to the guys, they executed.”
Santa Barbara improved to 2-0 in Channel League and 10-6 overall, while San Marcos is 1-1, 9-9.
It was a hard battle all night for Santa Barbara. John Connolly got San Marcos going early, knocking down a pair of three-pointers to help the Royals take a 12-4 lead in the first quarter. He led his team with 17 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
The Royals’ defense made it tough for Warrecker to get good looks. The Dons’ standout also took an inadvertent shot to the nose and left the game late in the second quarter. He returned in the second half and wore a protective mask for the remainder of the game.
Before Warrecker left the game, San Marcos went on the attack. Connolly scored on an offensive rebound and Isaiah Hicks drove for a bucket. When Warrecker went out, Hicks nailed a three-pointer to put the Royals ahead by 10 points, 25-15.
Johnson rescued the Dons with back-to-back three-pointers and Davis beat his defender on a drive to cut the deficit to 25-23 at halftime
Max Sheldon came off the bench for the Royals and hit a three-pointer to break a 31-31 and spark a 7-1 run in the last 2:16 of the third quarter for a 38-32 lead.
But the Royals struggled to make shots in the fourth. They scored only five points in the quarter.
San Marcos coach Jelani Hicks said playing in the larger SBCC gym wasn’t a factor.
“I don’t think it was an excuse of being here because we did knock down some shots,” he said. “But it was just a mix of their defense and us not knocking down shots we normally make.”
Warrecker found his touch at the start of the fourth quarter and Johnson provided a boost on defense by forcing a couple of turnovers.
“He’s a great athlete,” said Adam of Johnson. “If we can get him going defensively, and what he brings offensively, it’s just going to be a bonus. It’s just getting him focused, and he was there tonight.”
Warrecker scored in the low post and then made a nice spin move in the paint to make it a two-point game.
“He’s a good player. Players like him are going to find a way to get their points, especially when they needed them the most,” said Hicks of Warrecker. “He did a good job of that.”
Johnson buried a three-pointer to put Santa Barbara ahead 39-38 at the 5:31 mark and Tony Njia knocked down a three to give the lead back to San Marcos at 41-39.
The Royals, however, took a big hit when Connolly fouled out with 1:49 to go. Warrecker made both free throws to tie the score.
San Marcos’ next foul sent Warrecker to the line again and put the Dons in the bonus. Warrecker made both free throws for a 43-41 lead.
Coach Hicks felt Santa Barbara was more of the aggressor in the second half, but noted the foul count didn’t reflect that.
“I don’t know if they were the right calls, but the foul count does leave me with some issues based on how they were able to foul us at the end of the game. We would hope the fouls would be a little more balanced and consistent. But that’s neither here nor there.”
With 1:03 to go, Santa Barbara had only two team fouls, so they fouled to prevent the Royals from getting off shots.
San Marcos, however, scored on one of their inbound plays after a foul to tie the score at 43-43. Will Pace came off a screen and Hicks fed him a bounce pass for a layup with 20 seconds left.
Then it was the Dons’ turn to burn San Marcos on the inbounds play to win the game.
Said Hicks: “I got to watch the film and see where the miscommunication was, but we definitely lost (Johnson) and they capitalized on it and made a good play.”