James Hecht knows what some people might think when they see the win and loss columns.

But the Santa Monica boys basketball coach isn’t worried.

“Our record doesn’t show it, but I believe we’re getting better,” he said after the Vikings fell to visiting Beverly Hills in a league showdown last week. “We can make the playoffs. We will make the playoffs. But we have to stay focused.”

There’s certainly still hope for Samohi, which hosts El Segundo at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday night to wrap up the first half of the regular season.

The Vikings (6-13, 2-2 in the Ocean League), who last year reached the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1AA bracket before falling to Rancho Cucamonga, are vying for another postseason run with a talented starting lineup that features senior New Williams, junior Jonah Mathews and freshman Spencer Freedman.

Hecht’s squad is also adjusting to the addition of Jayce Johnson, a 7-footer who transferred from Findlay Prep in Nevada and made his Samohi debut earlier this month.

The Vikings took their lumps in preseason play, going 4-10 against top-tier competition. Arguably the most difficult stretch was an eight-game skid that included six double-digit losses, although Hecht said those experiences could help his team going forward.

“We played a very challenging schedule early on, and we’re a relatively inexperienced team,” he said. “There are not a lot of guys with lots of varsity experience. But we have definitely been battle-tested.”

Samohi was engaged in quite the battle in its recent conference game against Beverly Hills, which won the teams’ tournament meeting in December.

The Vikings led for the entire first half until Ryan Manoocheri drained a 3-pointer to give the Normans a 27-26 edge at the break.

In the third quarter, Beverly Hills pulled away with an 11-0 run that featured a three-point play by Arizona-bound senior Chance Comanche and a four-point play by senior guard Trevor Bergher.

Samohi came within 51-45 on forward Mikhail Brown’s basket in the fourth quarter, but the Normans made 15 free throws in the frame as part of a 25-for-26 effort at the foul line.

“They capitalized on a lot of the little things that turned out to be big things,” Hecht said. “They beat us to every loose ball. They got a lot of key rebounds. The amount of times we fouled just killed momentum and didn’t allow us to get into a tempo that we want to play in. They’re scoring 25 points, and the clock’s not moving.”

The loss masked a balanced outing on offense for the Vikings, who were led by Williams (14 points), Mathews (12 points) and Johnson (10 points). Brown added nine and Freedman chipped in seven.

Comanche had a game-high 20 points to lead Beverly Hills, whose attack was complemented by excellent long-range shooting. Bergher (16 points) and Manoocheri (12 points) combined for nine 3-pointers.

“We knew who their shooters were, and we just had breakdowns in communication and we did not do a good job of keeping track of where their shooters were,” Hecht said. “We knew (who their shooters were), but for some reason they were still getting open on us. And they hit some big-time shots.”

Samohi couldn’t let the setback linger for long. Early the next morning the team took a bus about 300 miles to Las Vegas to compete in the Pangos Dream Classic, an annual showcase that featured LeBron James in 2003 and Dwight Howard in 2004.

The Vikings outscored Las Vegas 20-14 in the fourth quarter but came away with a frustrating 71-69 loss. Mathews scored 19 points, Freedman had 17 to go along with five assists, Williams added 14 points and Johnson logged a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds.

Now it’s back to conference play for Samohi, which is currently in third place behind Lawndale and Beverly Hills.

“We don’t have a lot of time to hang our heads,” Hecht said, “and we don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for us.”

Contact Jeff Goodman by phone at 310-573-8351, via email at jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

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