After a 10 year drought, the Lancers men’s basketball team received a No. 12 seed for the upcoming Southern California playoffs and will travel to play No. 5 seeded Saddleback College. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Saddleback Gymnasium on Friday.
The Lancers (20-9, 8-5) earned the No. 11 seed in the 2014 seedings, but were moved to No. 12 to avoid a South Coast Conference matchup with No. 6 East Los Angeles.
“We know we are up against a pretty good team,” sophomore forward Taj Spencer said. “Rebounding and free-throws are going to be key for us. It’s win or go home.”
The Lancers finished in second place in the South Coast North Division as they finished a game behind East Los Angeles College. The Gauchos (24-5, 10-2) won a share of the Orange Empire Conference title.
Although the Lancers have not won a road playoff game since 2003, this year’s team is confident in their capabilities against the state’s top defensive team.
“We just have to spread the ball and make them work harder on defense,” sophomore forward Rashad Smith said. “We have to take the best shot each possession. We have to play tough on the boards and connect from the free-throw line.”
The Lancers’ last playoff game was a 68-63 home loss to eventual state champion Compton College in 2004, and last played a road playoff game in 2003 when it lost to Antelope Valley in the opening round of the SoCal Regionals.
“We just have to go out there and compete,” head coach Michael Swanegan said. “Rebounding and free-throw shooting is very important. We have to play our A-game. We’re going down there to win. Saddleback is not unbeatable.”
Although the Gauchos last won the state title in 2010, the Lancers remain focused on their goal of bringing a state title back to PCC.
“We all want to win,” sophomore point guard Jeffrey Dockett said. “With this being our final year, we want to go out on top.”
Spencer finished the regular season as the No. 22 scorer in the state, averaging 18.1 points-per-game while collecting 8.1 rebounds-per-game. Dockett averaged 15.2 points and 3.9 assists while shooting 45 percent from the field during the regular season.
“Both of them [Spencer and Dockett] bring their leadership abilities to the team,” Swanegan said. “They are both great offensive players and our team has really benefited from their production.”
Although both Spencer and Dockett have led the team throughout the regular season, the contributions of fellow sophomores Smith and Bryce Clifton are just as important according to Spencer.
“It’s going to be a full team effort,” Spencer said. “Both of them [Smith and Clifton] have really stepped up when we needed them most.”
In the final two games of the regular season, Smith emerged as a starter, averaging 14.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in the Lancers’ last two victories of the season.
“I’ve just been playing hard and doing what my team needs from me,” Smith said. “My teammates and coaches continue to show confidence in me and we’ve all been playing pretty well as a team.”
Although his averages don’t always reflect his importance, Clifton will also be important if the Lancers are going to make a playoff run.
“His numbers don’t always reflect his importance but he [Clifton] as well as Rashad does the dirty work for us.” Spencer said. “They provide us with the intangibles. We’re going to need a full team effort on Friday.”
The Gauchos are led by four all-conference players, including conference MVP Eric Thompson and his 13 points and 8.7 rebounds-per-game. The Gauchos enter the playoffs as the No. 1 defensive team in the state, allowing just 53.6 points per game. The Lancers rank No. 29 in the state, averaging 75.6 points per game.
The Lancers last faced Saddleback in the opening game of the 2012-13 campaign when the Gauchos defeated the Lancers 66-63 in the opening round of the Ventura College Tournament.
“We’re going to come out ready to play,” Spencer added. “We’re going into their house but they’re going to have to match our intensity. If we know our assignments and talk on defense everything will take care of itself.”
EDIT: Due to the rain, the game has been rescheduled for March 1. Tip off is scheduled for 5 p.m.