By Zach Cavanagh
LAS FLORES – With a full turnover of the roster, the San Clemente boys basketball team has struggled against a tough slate of opponents in the first 15 games under new head coach Landon Pluimer. Unfortunately for the Tritons, Thursday, Dec. 22, was the latest in that string.
San Clemente struggled from the free-throw line, and Foothill was on its game with eight 3-pointers to handily beat the Tritons, 65-50, in the cap of the North-South Classic at Tesoro High School.
With wins by Aliso Niguel over Portola, San Juan Hills over Beckman and Tesoro over Cypress, the South contingent still took the 23rd edition of the event, 3-1.
San Clemente (5-10) has now lost five of its last six games, and while Pluimer was encouraged by the performances in the team’s last tournament two weeks ago at the Corona del Mar Beach Bash, the Tritons haven’t been able to come together and get over the learning curve.
“We’ve played some really tough teams,” Pluimer said. “We’ve played 15 games, and I think 13 have against the top 15 in the county. We’ve competed. Tonight, it wasn’t as much.”
“We’re just really young and trying to figure it out,” Pluimer continued. “We only have two returners on the varsity, and they didn’t get as many minutes last year. We’re all learning right now what it takes, at least energy-wise.”
San Clemente hung with Foothill early and held four leads in the first quarter, but the Knights nailed a three late in the opening frame to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Despite forcing Foothill into foul trouble, the Tritons couldn’t capitalize, as the Knights pushed out to a 30-19 lead at halftime.
San Clemente made just two of its six free-throw attempts in the second quarter and 14 of 29 in the game. Foothill made seven of its nine attempts from the charity stripe.
Foothill led by 11 points at the end of the third quarter and matched nearly every San Clemente basket in the fourth quarter to win by the 15-point margin.
San Clemente closes out its nonleague slate in the Tustin Classic next week from Tuesday, Dec. 27, through Friday, Dec. 30.
The Tritons open the South Coast League at home against San Juan Hills on Jan. 11.