Max Sheldon
Max Sheldon of San Marcos fires up a three-pointer during the Royals’ win over Santa Barbara. Sheldon scored 23 points. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

Senior point guard Max Sheldon’s 23-point performance led the San Marcos boys basketball team to a crucial 68-52 victory over Channel League rival Santa Barbara High on Thursday.

With the victory, San Marcos remains unbeaten and moves to 7-0 in league play, while Santa Barbara falls to 4-2 in the league.

In an impressive display, Sheldon scored 17 of his points in the second half, including three deep 3-pointers.

“He’s probably the most improved player on our team,” said San Marcos coach Jelani Hicks. “He’s great energy-wise for us, and he’s been coming up huge all season.”

Shakir Ahmad

Shakir Ahmad scores on a drive against Santa Barbara’s Jasper Johnson. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

Senior forward John Connolly also came up huge for the Royals, scoring 16 points in the dominant home victory.

For the Dons, only senior forward Erik Strandburg scored in double-figures with in 15 points in the losing effort.

Throughout the night, San Marcos’ swarming defense forced turnover after turnover, leading to easy points in transition for the Royals.

“We really hang our hat on our defense,” said Hicks. “We know that if we can control the flow defensively, our offense will take care of itself.”

Propelled by their defensive effort, San Marcos was uber-efficient on the offensive end. In addition to a multitude of fastbreak points, the Royals scored 15 of their points on threes and 13 of their points from the charity stripe.

“As the season’s been going on, we’re really playing to our strengths on the offensive end,” said Hicks. “It’s hard for teams to keep us out of the paint, but we also have the ability to knock down threes.”

While San Marcos went into halftime up by 8, the Royals came out firing after the intermission, going on a massive 22-9 run during the third quarter. During that run, Sheldon seemed to score at will no matter which Dons player was guarding him. In total, the senior guard chipped in 10 points during the run, which gave San Marcos a 51-34 lead.

To its credit, Santa Barbara didn’t quit. After being pulled earlier in the quarter, Strandburg came out reenergized, hitting a buzzer-beater 3-pointer to pull the Dons within 14 at the end of the quarter.

“I got on him a little bit, and to his credit he didn’t tuck his tail,” said Dons coach Corey Adam.

But the Dons were never able to make the game truly competitive, as senior leaders Sheldon and Donnolly made sure the Royals saw out the victory. Every time Santa Barbara started to make a run, it either turned the ball over or took a tough contested shot.

“One group played like a team tonight and one played like five individuals,” said Adam. “We just didn’t execute tonight.”

In front of a raucous home crowd, San Marcos completed the season sweep of Santa Barbara, something an elated Hicks reflected on.

“It’s not everyday that we beat them twice in the same season,” said Hicks. “We’re trying to impose our will on the league and change historically how things have been between us.”

Brandon Victor is a Noozhawk contributing writer. Contact him at