Hornets blast past Lasers to clinch OEC crown for third straight season

Fullerton used stingy defense and timely shot-making against Irvine Valley to secure a win that clinched themselves at least a share of first place in the Orange Empire Conference.
Fullerton sophomore guard Jaden Byers looks to create space by driving into Irvine freshman guard Ammon Allan on Feb. 13, 2024.
Fullerton sophomore guard Jaden Byers looks to create space by driving into Irvine freshman guard Ammon Allan on Feb. 13, 2024.
Ciara Gonzalez

The three-peat is sacred in basketball, and is seen as a symbol for dominance. Fans of the round ball know how nearly impossible it is to win back-to-back-to-back titles at any level. Yet, that is exactly what Fullerton College accomplished on Tuesday inside The Hornets’ Nest, as their 76-47 victory over Irvine Valley College clinched FC a third straight OEC title.

This is the first time Fullerton College has won at least three straight conference titles since Hall of Fame head coach Alex Omalev led his Hornets to six in a row from 1949-1955. This was a proud moment for current Fullerton head coach Perry Webster’s program.

“We work really hard… The players first, the coaches, to win championships. It feels good to accomplish it and to get to this point,” said Webster.

The Hornets (22-4, 13-1) sent a message right from the opening tap that this would be a long night for the Lasers. FC started the game up 8-0, sparked by three blocks and a steal on the defensive end from guards Christian Watson and Amound Anderson II. IVC called an early timeout at the 16:38 mark of the first half to try and settle themselves down.

Fullerton sophomore guard Amound Anderson II blocking a Lasers shot on Feb. 13, 2024. (Ciara Gonzalez )

“We got sped up. Their pressure rushed us and we got [caught] playing faster,” said Irvine Valley head coach Jerry Hernandez. “We have to be more deliberate in our setup and in what we have to do.”

This entire game was a masterclass in defense taught by the Hornets, as they swarmed IVC shooters all night long. It seemed intentional that every single offensive possession for the Lasers was difficult. They had to work extremely hard to find a shot, let alone an open one.

“Our guys were on a mission,” said Webster. “We’ve been pretty damn good defensively over the last couple months.”

The mission was clear, as the Lasers (16-9, 7-6) shot a miserable 30% from the field and 30% from three-point land. Not one player scored in double figures for IVC, and the team’s top two scorers, sophomore guard Roman Swizek and sophomore forward Jesse Stines, combined for six points total. The Hornets did a better job executing the coaches’ game plan on Tuesday.

“We didn’t want those guys to get comfortable. Today we were able to get back [to our matchups],” said Webster. “We got really comfortable in a defensive rhythm and I thought we were pretty suffocating. They couldn’t even get shots up.”

It took the Lasers nearly six minutes to make their first field goal, making the score 13-3 in favor of Fullerton.

After a few stalled offensive possessions from the Hornets, Watson intercepted a pass, raced down the floor, got on his pogo stick and threw down a vicious one-handed dunk that injected energy right back into his team.

Watson credited not only his teammates for his success, but also, his now five-time OEC champion coach in Webster.

“I got a hell of a coach, and I got amazing shooters around me,” said Watson. “So, anytime I can hit those gaps and get people open or find opportunities for myself, I’m going to try to do that.”

Fullerton freshman guard Christian Watson looks to set up the offense while being guarded by Irvine sophomore forward Jesse Stines on Feb. 13, 2024. (Ciara Gonzalez )

Watson seemed to be the spark plug that kept the Hornets from getting content in a game they dominated from horn to horn. He made sure the energy plays were on full display. From pinned blocks off the backboard to crafty finishes at the rim, Watson truly played a complete game against IVC.

Fullerton started the second half with a shot of energy from their catalyst. In less than 45 seconds, Watson facilitated two plays that confirmed the Lasers would not be making any kind of comeback in this game.

In the first possession after halftime, freshman forward JQ Strong sealed his defender off in the mid post, and Watson found him. The pass was on the money, and Strong did the rest as he threw down a rim-rattling slam dunk to make sure the crowd was still awake.

The very next possession, Watson contested the jump shot of IVC sophomore guard David Ogunlade and sprinted out on the break. He got the ball, used a sweet spin move to get around his defender, then went up and under between two Lasers to make a reverse layup that required just a little bit of English off the glass. Poetry in motion.

Another major player of the game was the aforementioned Strong. He was a matchup problem for the Lasers inside early in this game, as he scored 6 quick points, and finished with 9 in the first half.

What Strong had for the Lasers early in the second half caught them off guard. Strong splashed two jumpers, with one coming from beyond the arc. Last time Fullerton played Irvine Valley, they did not get to see the full repertoire of his game.

“I know they scouted from the last time, and all [my points] came from the inside,” said Strong. “Once I saw they backed off, I let it spray and let them know what my game is like.”

Strong led all scorers with a game-high 16 points. Watson had 13 points to go along with six rebounds, four assists, and three blocks. Freshman forward Shawn Woodson also poured in 13 points off the bench, including a three-pointer in the deep corner at the buzzer to end the first half.

Fullerton freshman forward Shawn Woodson hits a buzzer beating 3-point shot against Irvine Valley to end the first half, giving the Hornets a 37-18 lead at halftime on Feb. 13, 2024. (Ciara Gonzalez )

Freshman forward Josiah Reed led the Lasers in scoring. The Fullerton Union High School product scored nine points to go along with six rebounds and a block for Irvine Valley.

Fullerton looks to clinch the OEC title outright when they hit the trail to take on the Bobcats of Saddleback College (15-11, 8-6) at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 15.

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