It's difficult to call it a silver lining, but in the aftermath of one of his Orange Coast College women's basketball team's worst performances in his 25 seasons, Coach Mike Thornton's first postgame task was delivering praise.
"He told me how well-coached we are and how much energy we have and how he loves how hard our kids play," said Palomar coach and former OCC player and assistant coach Leigh Marshall, whose Comets dropped an 85-47 drubbing on the Pirates in the consolation semifinals of the Erin Tomlinson Coast Christmas Classic on Thursday at OCC.
"I'm proud of what Leigh has done with that program and with that team," said Thornton, whose squad was outdone in every category, including those not on the stat sheet. "They are a blue-collar team that came into the game 3-8 and had had a lot of bad things happen to them. But you would never know that by watching them warm up and watching them play and how they play together and how enthusiastic they are."
The Comets sprinted, slashed, shuffled, pressed, jumped and dived to get the better of OCC on nearly every possession. OCC has not given up more than 85 points since March 12, 1998 in an 87-79 loss to DeAnza, a span of 494 games.
And it has been 559 games — since a 98-59 trouncing by Ventura on Nov. 16, 1996 — that OCC lost by a wider margin.
The Pirates (8-5), who have now lost three straight, were one point off their season-low scoring total, had a season-worst 30 turnovers and shot just 27.9% from the field (17 for 61), barely better than their season-worst 27.5% two games previous against Sierra.
OCC lost the rebounding battle, 54-43, made just 11 of 21 foul shots (52.4%) and surrendered 18 layups, including five put-backs off of Palomar's 23 offensive rebounds.
Freshman Jasmine Matar led the Pirates with 11 points and shared the rebounding lead (five) with Chanelle DiCroce, who had 10 points. But Matar committed 10 turnovers.
Thornton said DiCroce, a sophomore transfer from Midland College in Texas, competed well under the circumstances, and he also praised the effort of sophomore Raechelle Davis, who had 10 points and four rebounds before fouling out in 12 minutes.
"But not really anybody else," Thornton said of his willingness to distribute kudos to his players. "We are definitely a country club, white-collar team that doesn't allow [the coaches] to coach them. We have gotten through it and at times we have competed well. We have had some nice wins and we have beaten some good teams. But, in my opinion, [the players] are taking advantage of a situation in which we have a small number of players [nine available]. We don't compete in practice and it caught up to us this week.
"We lost a tough game [Wednesday] night by one to a really good Chaffey team," Thornton said. "I foresaw [a letdown against Palomar the next day], but never in my wildest dreams did I think we would lose by 38. [The players] don't understand how hard you have to play and it's going to be a long haul if we don't get things righted."
Orange Coast, eliminated from the tournament, was within 12-8 when the Comets went on a 27-4 run that spanned 10:25 on the clock. After DiCroce sank one of her two three-pointers with 16:01 left in the first half, OCC managed just one field goal in the next 10 minutes.
OCC was just two of 12 from three-point range (16.7%).
Marshall, a Costa Mesa High product who was a sophomore on the OCC's state championship team in 2002-03, said she had little remorse about pounding her former program and coach.
"Obviously I respect [Thornton] a lot and some of the things we do are things I learned playing here and coaching with him," Marshall, in her fourth season at Palomar, said. "But we really needed this win for ourselves."
OCC returns to action Dec. 28 in the Ventura Tournament.
Erin Tomlinson Coast Christmas Classic
Palomar 85, Orange Coast 47
Pal – Evans 16, Littleton 15, Fegan 15, Stanton 13, Cabrera 2, Scott 17, Tomlinson 3, Barnes 2, Hollins 2.
3-pt. goals – Fegan 4, Tomlinson 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
OCC – Mater 11, Davis 10, DiCroce 10, Bunting 2, Armenta 0, Mayott 6, Dalton 5, Johnson 3.
3-pt. goals – DiCroce 2.
Fouled out – Davis.
Technicals – None.
Halftime – PC, 49-21.