The Cal Poly men’s basketball team suffered its biggest conference loss since 2014 on Saturday night, losing to Hawaii 74-60 in Mott Athletics Center.
The 60 points were the Mustangs’ second-lowest total in a game this season. Senior guard Reese Morgan led the team with 10 points.
An entertaining, but somewhat sloppy first half electrified the crowd early in the game. Both teams traded possession for most of the game as the largest lead of the half was five points, held once by each team.
The half was highlighted by two breakaway jams by the Mustangs. Senior guard David Nwaba took a steal up the court, then left a between the legs pass in the middle of the key for freshman forward Josh Martin. Minutes later, freshman guard Jaylen Shead threw down a one-handed jam to send the crowd into hysterics.
“I thought (in) the first half, we moved the ball and did some things,” Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero said. “We got shots, we missed some great open shots. We had a chance there to push the lead to six or eight points with some good looks.”
Both teams headed into the locker room locked at 28 points apiece. The Mustangs shot 42 percent from the field and 33 percent from beyond the arc in the first half. Hawaii shot 44 percent overall, but was held to 14 percent from three-point range in the half. For the second game in a row, the Mustangs did not shoot a free throw in the first half.
As competitive as the first half was, the second half was the polar opposite.
The Mustangs started the half zero-11 from the floor before senior forward Brian Bennett hit a baseline jumper. During that time, Hawaii went on a 9-0 run, induced by two three-pointers and an and-one layup.
“They came out pretty efficient and we were not offensively efficient,” Callero said. “And I thought that changed our entire psyche for our defense.”
The Mustangs battled back to bring the game within two on a three-pointer by sophomore guard Taylor Sutlive with 13:06 left. However, the comeback was short-lived. Hawaii ripped off a 12-0 run to take a 14-point lead and never looked back.
With Saturday’s loss, Cal Poly fell to 8-14 on the season and 2-7 in Big West Conference play. Hawaii advanced to 18-3 overall and 7-1 in the conference, good for a share of the conference lead.
After the loss, Callero was not happy with the Mustangs performance.
“I was very heated with our team,” Callero said. “I only get heated a couple times a year and this is as heated as I’ve been with the team because the general feeling was a little bit of a pity party.”
“I think that the tough losses tonight mounted on us and emotionally we became very soft and felt very bad about ‘Oh God, we might lose another game.’”
Beyond Morgan’s 10 points, Shead added nine points and Bennett, Martin and sophomore forward Luke Meikle pitched in eight points each.
After a poor shooting half, the Mustangs finished the game shooting 33 percent overall and 29 percent from beyond the arc. Hawaii shot 61 percent in the second half, en route to 52 percent overall shooting and 35 percent from three-point range.
Despite the tough performance, the Mustangs aren’t counting themselves out just yet.
“There’s definitely enough talent and there’s definitely enough character (for a run),” Callero said. “Character has to sometimes be outed. You know, character doesn’t rise until sometimes it’s challenged.”
Morgan and Shead both agreed and added their own thoughts. ““If we’re gonna turn this season around and get some wins, we’re going to have to remedy (letdowns),” Morgan said. “We can’t beat these good teams in conference playing well for 30 minutes.”
“We gotta just find what we’re good at and stick with it,” Shead added.
Callero defined the importance of a strong bounce back after Saturday’s performance. “There are no options but to fight,” he said. “There are no other options but to bounce back. There are no options but to question yourself.”
Cal Poly heads south next week to play at Long Beach State on Thursday at 7 p.m. and at UC Riverside on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.