Senior guard Jailen Nelson exploded for 15 of Carlsbad’s 23 fourth quarter points and the No. 10 Lancers came back from a 13-pt. deficit to knock off visiting San Marcos, 60-57, in Avocado West League boys’ basketball action Friday night. The result, played out before a throng of raucous bipartisan onlookers, left both squads 1-1 in league play. Carlsbad is now 13-6 overall while San Marcos is 12-6.
“We struggled in the first couple of quarters but I think the crowd definitely riled us up,” said Nelson, who finished with a game high 21 points. “Our teamwork and our coaches got us turned around—we wanted this one on a Friday for the school.”
It was a huge win for the Lancers who dropped their Avo West opener in disappointing fashion against No. 4-ranked Torrey Pines on Tuesday. Carlsbad led, 32-30, at halftime in this one but things didn’t look as rosy when Coach Sam Eshelman’s charges scored only five points in the third quarter and entered the final eight minutes down by a 50-37 count.
That’s when Nelson took over, charging the rim, canning a pair of timely treys and sinking seven-of-seven free throws down the stretch. While Nelson played down his part in the resurgence, Eshelman was more forthcoming in describing the circumstance and the role his point guard played in reversing the momentum.
“I felt like we were playing the game at their pace, certainly in the third quarter, walking the ball up the court and just getting thrown out of rhythm offensively,” analyzed Eshelman. “I think we’re better when we play fast, get up-and-down the floor. We did a good job of controlling the tempo in the fourth quarter, getting in the gaps with two guys guarding one and then finding shooters who could knock down shots.
“Jailen was the key to finding our pace. He did a good job of really trying to penetrate and looking for his shot a little bit. Once he had one go through the net it kind of increased his confidence. We certainly need him—he’s been the catalyst all year and did a good job of bringing us back tonight.”
Another crucial factor was Nelson’s namesake, 6-foot-7 Caleb Nelson. In his third game back from a broken clavicle, the versatile junior scored 20 points and could be a crucial piece if Carlsbad hopes to knock Torrey Pines off the top perch in the Avocado West title chase.
“Caleb’s a terrific player and we’re so happy to have him back,” said Eshelman. “We know it’s going to take a little time before he’s at peak performance but you see what he’s capable of. He hit some clutch threes, helps us rebound—you saw tonight how much he impacted the game.”
The final two minutes were frenzied. After two three-point bombs by Jailen Nelson kick-started the final surge, a trey by Caleb Nelson with 1:47 remaining knotted the game at 56. The Knights’ Christian Littlejohn converted one-of-two free throws and then, culminating a chaotic sequence on the Lancers’ offensive end, 6-10 junior Kai Burdick made the game’s last field goal with a soft inside mini-hook off a feed from Jailen Nelson. (Jailen) Nelson swished two free throws to create the final margin. Sophomore guard Toby Harris chipped in with 10 points and ended up on the floor after out-wrestling everyone for the rebound that led to Nelson’s culminating free throws, effectively clinching the contest.
For San Marcos, four players scored in double figures—Kasey Clouet (14), Littlejohn (11) and Zakkaiah Knowles (10)—and sophomore Devon Arlington added nine. In the aftermath, Head Coach Dante Carey lamented what could have been.
“We had a game plan that we did a pretty good job executing most of the game,” said Carey. “We just folded up at the end of the game. I love this team but it’s a young group that hasn’t reached its peak yet. They have to understand you need to execute for an entire game, be consistent and close it out.”
Both sides now sit one game behind Avocado west frontrunners Torrey Pines and La Costa Canyon. Next up on Tuesday night, San Marcos will host Torrey Pines and La Costa Canyon comes to Carlsbad. Eshelman knows there’s a lot of basketball left to play.
“Tonight was huge, it’s such a tough league, to put ourselves in an 0-2 hole knowing that we still have to go to Torrey Pines would have been a pretty difficult way to start if we wanted to have any hope of winning league,” said Eshelman. “We know every time out is going to be a challenge—hopefully, we can use tonight’s fourth quarter to give us some momentum.”