The Cal Poly men’s basketball team wrapped up their 2016 home games with a pair of tough wins against University of Texas, San Antonio and Texas A&M, Corpus Christi. These two victories give the Mustangs (5-4) a winning record for the first time this season.
Against University of Texas, San Antonio
The Mustangs started off slow in a 59-47 win Thursday night against the visiting Roadrunners (2-5), committing multiple travels and missing eight of their first eleven shots. UT-San Antonio stayed in it early as the two teams fought a physical, defensive battle. But, fueled by the hot hand of senior guard Kyle Toth, the Mustangs went on a 19-7 run in the last 10 minutes of the first half.
Toth had 11 of his game-high 18 points in the first half and shot 4 of 7 from the field, knocking in three of those shots from three-point territory.
“Once you get that rhythm going, once you get that spark, it’s all about staying aggressive,” Toth said. “If shots aren’t falling, we’re not going to let that affect our defense.”
The defensive side of the Mustangs’ effort kept them in the game over the first 20 minutes. Forwards Zach Gordon and Hank Hollingsworth combined for five emphatic blocks and allowed the Roadrunners to make just six shots from the field in the first half.
Cal Poly couldn’t continue that effort to open the second half, as the Roadrunners cut the Mustangs’ lead to just six points. But this time, Cal Poly picked up the slack on offense as sophomore guard Donovan Fields knocked down a three-pointer before Hollingsworth slammed home a posterizing dunk to get Cal Poly’s offense going again.
Despite a late comeback attempt by the Roadrunners, Cal Poly closed out the game in the same way it jumped out to a lead in the first half: defense. Hollingworth swatted the final shot by Roadrunner guard Austin Karrer into the stands to put an emphatic stamp on the victory.
Against Texas A&M, Corpus Christi
In the time between the game against Roadrunners and their Saturday game against Texas A&M, Corpus Christi, the Mustangs sorted out their first half offense to the tune of an 82-70 victory.
Unlike Thursday’s defensive grind, the Mustangs came out firing Saturday night, going on an 11-3 run to open the game. Texas A&M, Corpus Christi (5-1) fought back and cut the lead to three, but the Mustangs responded with force.
Using a three- or four-guard lineup focused on speed and scoring, the Mustangs rained threes from multiple spots beyond the three-point line. As a team, Cal Poly made 8 of 15 shots from downtown in the first half, led by Toth (4 of 5) and senior guard Ridge Shipley (2 of 3). The Mustangs shot 61 percent from the field in a hot first half and stayed strong on the defensive side as well, holding the Islanders to just 37 percent shooting.
With a 44-23 lead going in to halftime, the game looked all but over for the visiting Islanders when Fields hit a fadeaway runner in the lane as time expired in the first half. But this was an undefeated team that nearly made the NCAA tournament last season, and showed resolve in the second half.
Cal Poly opened the half with another four-guard lineup to run away with the game, but had trouble finding shots on the offensive end. The Islanders went on a 24-9 run to open the final 20 minutes and cut Cal Poly’s lead to just six points. Mustangs head coach Joe Callero had to call timeout to try to stop the comeback.
“I think that was the couple of punches we needed to take to learn how to respond to that,” Callero said. “But by winning by double digits, I think we did respond to that.”
Coming out of that timeout, Fields, junior guard Victor Joseph and junior forward Luke Meikle all drained threes and Hollingsworth slammed home a pair of dunks to get the Mustangs’ offense going again.
Cal Poly continued the scoring to build another double-digit lead they’d keep for the rest of their final home game of 2016.
The Mustangs play Saturday at Fresno State and continue a multi-game road trip through the rest of December. The next time the Mustangs play at home is Jan. 12, 2017 in the second Big West conference matchup of the season.