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Merced digs early hole, in turn, buries itself

Marcus Knott doesn't like the trend he's seen early with his team this year.

The Merced boys basketball coach watched again as his players stumbled out of the gate Friday night against El Camino.

The lack of energy in the first half put Merced in an early hole as El Camino handed Merced a 65-62 loss.

"That's kind of been our MO all year," Knott said. "That's something that has to change or we're not going to be successful against top-notch competition."

El Camino gave Merced (5-5) fits with its height and ability to shoot outside.

David Strasburg and Austin Bracey both knocked down treys and 6-foot-8 center Andy Shannon scored all six of his points in the second quarter to help El Camino open a 34-23 lead at halftime.

"Their big guys were long and they can shoot a lot of 3s," Merced guard Allen Huddleston said. "When you shoot a lot of long shots, there's usually long rebounds and their big guys covered a lot of ground."

El Camino built its lead to as high as 14 points early in the second half.

However, Merced finally came alive.

After relying on Jarrett Sparks -- who scored 10 of Merced's 23 points in the first half -- to carry the offense in the first half, other players got going.

Huddleston scored 15 of his 18 points in the final two quarters.

Merced closed out the third quarter with a mini 5-0 run to cut the lad to 47-41 heading into the fourth quarter.

An 11-2 run finally pulled Merced even at 52-52 with 5:12 left in the game.

Merced just couldn't sustain any consistency.

Two quick turnovers led to a 7-0 run by El Camino and suddenly Merced found itself trailing again.

Kyle Baxter nailed a 3-pointer and Juwann Springfield hit a shot in the lane to give El Camino a 59-52 with 3:52 remaining.

"It's real hard to get back in it," Knott said. "We were able to tie it and then we had a couple of breakdowns on offense and they took advantage of it."

Sparks and Huddleston tried to pull it out for Merced down the stretch.

Sparks finished with 21 points. Huddleston scored six points in the final 57 seconds and cut the lead to 61-59 with 22 seconds remaining.

El Camino put the game away from the free-throw line, hitting 6 of 7 in the final 48 seconds.

"When you get yourself in a hole, it's hard to come out of it,"Huddleston said. "We were down 11, we battled back and finally got out of it.

"They were just a good team."

EL CAMINO 65

MERCED 62

at Merced

El Camino 13 21 13 18 -- 65

Merced 11 12 18 21 -- 62

EL CAMINO -- Anthony Eastman 2, David Strasburg 3, Tyler Brown 6, Will Olsen 8, Austin Bracey 15, Kyle Baxter 14, Juwann Springfield 9, Andy Shannon 6. Totals 22 13-15 65.

MERCED -- Ronnie Dunham 7, Allen Huddleston 18, Kenny Cooper 7, Jarrett Sparks 21, Patrick Franey 6. Totals 21 14-21 62.

3-pointers: El Camino 6 (Olsen 2, Baxter 2, Bracey 1, Strasburg 1); Merced 4 (Huddleston 2, Dunham 1, Sparks 1); Team Fouls: El Camino 17, Merced 17; Fouled out: Shannon (EC).

Record: Merced 5-5.

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