While many Cal Poly students were home for the Thanksgiving holiday break, the men’s basketball team traveled to Northern Illinois University to play three games over two days in the NIU Thanksgiving Classic. The team went 1-2 in the three games against Northern Illinois, University of Illinois, Chicago and Elon University.
Against Northern Illinois
The Mustangs started off strong on Wednesday in their first game against the host Huskies, jumping to a 31-21 advantage by halftime on their way to a 68-64 win. Junior guard Victor Joseph had 10 of his game-high 19 points in the first 20 minutes to lead the Mustangs offensively.
In the second half, however, the Huskies opened with a 15-5 run to tie it at 36 and kept it close from there on out. There were four lead changes in the second half as both teams traded points until Joseph and sophomore guard Jaylen Shead each made a pair of free throws in the final five seconds of the game. That put the game out of reach for Northern Illinois and secured the only win of the road trip for the Mustangs.
Cal Poly was outrebounded 33-22 and outscored in the paint 28-16 by the Huskies in the win but compensated for the lack of interior offense by going 11-of-22 on three-pointers and shooting 51 overall from the field.
Against University of Illinois, Chicago
In contrast to the game against Northern Illinois, the Mustangs fell behind 46-25 by halftime on their way to a 84-71 loss to the Flames on Friday.
A major key to the deficit at half was Cal Poly’s shooting as the Mustangs shot 8-for-31 from the field including 2 of 7 on three-point shots. Shead led the team with 20 points and eight rebounds but was one of the only contributors on the offensive end. Sophomore point guard Donovan Fields managed 16 points on 4-of-13 shooting but made all eight of his free throws to lead the Cal Poly bench.
The Mustangs were again outrebounded, this time 39-27, but managed to produce on those fewer rebounds to outscore the Flames in the paint 35-28. Cal Poly also continued to shoot well from the free throw line (16 of 17 as a team) but ultimately they could not overcome a cold shooting first half.
Against Elon University
Saturday’s game against the Phoenixes saw head coach Joe Callero trot out just eight players as Cal Poly lost 72-66.
The Mustangs were up 37-35 by halftime thanks to Joseph shooting well once again. He went 6-of-8 from the field on his way to 14 points and Cal Poly as a team shot 57 percent at the end of the first half.
In the second half, the Phoenixes clamped down defensively and held the Mustangs to 10-of-30 shooting from the floor. Joseph continued his production on offense but it wasn’t enough as the Phoenix went on a 15-9 run over the final four minutes to grab the victory.
Going 1-2 in the Thanksgiving Classic, the Mustangs (3-4) close November still in the top four in the Big West Conference. Cal Poly has a pair of home games this weekend: Thursday versus University of Texas, San Antonio and Saturday against Texas A&M, Corpus Christi. This gives the Mustangs a chance to improve on their season before a six-game road trip against non-conference opponents.