The Cal Poly men’s basketball team is desperately clinging to the final playoff spot in the Big West Conference tournament with just three regular-season games remaining despite losing two more home games this week.
After falling to UC Davis (17-9, 8-4) Thursday and UC Irvine (18-9, 9-4) Saturday, the Mustangs (8-19, 3-10) losing streak now stands at four consecutive games.
Cal Poly vs. UC Davis
The Mustangs started their three-game homestand with a nail-biting loss in triple overtime to defending conference champions UC Davis, 84-92.
In the Mustangs’ first triple overtime game since 1983, the Aggies dominated from the start, jumping out to a seven-point lead early in the first half.
UC Davis finished the first half strong, fending the Mustangs off in a 6-0 run to lead 27-18 at halftime, holding the Mustangs to just 25 percent shooting from inside the arc.
Despite the Mustangs’ alarming 12 turnovers and abysmal shooting percentage from inside the arc, head coach Joe Callero saw the possibility of erasing a nine-point deficit.
“I thought we had a chance to win ugly,” Callero said. “We turned the ball over in the first half, we missed a bunch of shots, but it’s still a single digit game.”
The Mustangs rallied to tie the game at 52-52 off of a jumper by junior forward Josh Martin. Cal Poly then pulled ahead, as a three-pointer by junior forward Jakub Niziol gave the team its first advantage of the game at 55-54 with six minutes remaining.
While the Mustangs had their largest lead at five points late in the second half, the Aggies were able to tie it at 64-64, and the game went to overtime.
Junior forward Aleks Abrams, who finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds for his first career double-double, gave the Mustangs a 68-66 lead halfway through the five minute overtime period.
“It feels good,” Abrams said. “Tough outcome, but it felt good to help out and give us some scoring inside.”
In the final minute of overtime, the Aggies tied the game back 70-70, forcing another overtime period.
Senior forward Luke Meikle scored the only points for the Mustangs in the second overtime, as the team trailed for all of the five minutes. With less than a minute left, Meikle’s third three-pointer of the night tied the score at 75-75, sending the game to triple overtime.
“It’s definitely tiring, but it’s college basketball so it’s just a memory you’re going to have forever,” Abrams said. “… playing three overtimes, you’re going to remember that game forever.”
The third overtime was the Mustangs’ undoing, as the Aggies dominated to take the win, 92-84.
“Unfortunately we’ve been here before,” Meikle said. “We know what it’s like to be the underdog, and we need to embrace it. We’ll keep our heads up.”
Cal Poly vs. UC Irvine
After falling behind by 20 points in the first half, the Cal Poly men’s basketball team fell to UC Irvine 75-58 Saturday evening at Mott Athletics Center.
Senior guard Victor Joseph scored 21 points for his 22nd double-digit game for Cal Poly, but the loss marked the continuation of a four year long winless streak against the UC Irvine at home.
Midway through the first half, UC Irvine started to pull away after a dominant 12-0 run to lead 25-9. The Anteaters, who are locked in a second-place tie with UC Davis, increased their lead to 20 points with 6:22 until halftime.
“The bad news is: we’ve got a real problem starting the game off well,” Callero said. “We’re just simply as slow a starting team as I have coached in 30 years.”
Junior guard Trevor John and Joseph each knocked down a shot from behind the arc, sparking a run by the Mustangs to bring the score down to 33-25 with just over a minute left in half. During the run, the Anteaters were held scoreless for four minutes.
“We know when teams go up big on us, we’re going to fight back and eventually make it a game to get back within single digits,” junior point guard Donovan Fields said. “Every time we’re on the court, we’re all fighting to get there.”
The second half was a back-and-forth rally, but UC Irvine pulled away early, leading 41-31 after four minutes. Cal Poly came within six points of tying the game six times in the second half, but never managed to snatch the lead back as UC Irvine maintained their lead to win 75-58.
UC Irvine had almost twice as many rebounds in the game, tallying 43 to Cal Poly’s 22 rebounds and shot 52 percent from the field, compared to the Mustangs’ 35 percent.
“It just came down to our rebounding and making or missing shots,” Joseph said. “When we didn’t get the rebound and came down and missed a shot, it takes a toll on you.”
The Mustangs remain tied for 7th place in the conference with Cal State University Northridge (6-20, 3-10). The Mustangs will host the Matadors in the final home game of the season, celebrating senior night for Joseph, Meikle, and senior forward Aleks Abrams on Thursday at 7 p.m.
“Every game from here on out has been a must-win. We’ve got four days to prepare for [CSUN] and we’re working hard.” Fields said. “It’s senior night so… we want to get the win for them.”