In his first game back from injury, senior guard Kyle Odister scored 12 points in a 64-50 loss to UC Irvine on Saturday.
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With the spotlights of national TV focused on Mott Athletics Center (MAC), the Cal Poly men’s basketball team never found the offensive spark the sold-out building was trying to provide.
UC Irvine used a 14-0 run midway through the first half as Cal Poly dropped its third straight game with a 64-50 loss to the Anteaters on Saturday night.
The Mustangs (8-13 overall) dropped to 4-4 in Big West play after winning four of its first six conference games, while UC Irvine remained tied atop the standings with UC Santa Barbara and Long Beach State at 5-2.
“Our first half of the first half has been as much as a coach could ask for,” Callero said. “Tonight was the first real disappointing game. It was the first game where I feel like we got beat. We simply got beat by a better team.”
The loss marks the first three-game Big West home losing streak under Callero and the first since 2009.
UC Irvine put the Mustangs on their heels early on thanks to hot shooting from long range. Freshman guard Luke Nelson converted 4 of 8 shots from beyond the arc, as the Anteaters made 7 of 16 shots (43.8 percent), including 6 of 9 in the first half, from downtown.
“We had a couple lapses here and there, but, for the most part, I thought their shots were contested,” senior forward Chris Eversley said. “We had guys there. They just made tough shots driving baseline and hitting cutters and everything like that.”
Eversley provided Cal Poly’s highlight moment when he took Jamal Johnson’s steal to the rack and dunked on UC Irvine’s Mamadou Ndiaye — who is the tallest player in the NCAA at 7-foot-6 — in the first half. The dunk claimed a spot in SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays on Saturday. He paced the Mustangs with 14 points and 10 boards in 33 minutes of play.
Despite Eversley’s contribution with 14 double-digit games this season, Cal Poly hasn’t scored more than 58 points in its previous four contests, where the team has gone 1-3.
“There’s some offensive concerns that we had prior to this game,” Callero said. “When you put a 7-foot-6 guy out there it just accelerates the concern.”
The Mustangs held Ndiaye to four points in 23 minutes of play, but the rest of the Anteaters’ frontcourt helped UC Irvine to a 48.1 percent shooting percentage for the game. The Anteaters also out-rebounded the Mustangs 39-34.
Bolstered by a raucous MAC, Cal Poly jumped out to a 15-9 lead before UC Irvine stormed back to take the lead for good with 11:37 left in the first half.
The Mustangs attempted to make a run late in that first period, but UC Irvine’s Alex Young nailed a contested 3-pointer as time expired in the half to give the Anteaters a 39-28 lead and momentum headed into the break. Cal Poly would only score 22 points in the final frame.
Sophomore forward Brian Bennett committed four fouls in four minutes and scored four points off the bench.
Cal Poly shot 30.4 percent from the field and went 8 of 23 from 3-point range despite its sharpshooter senior guard Kyle Odister’s return to the lineup on Saturday. He missed last week’s games due to a nagging foot injury.
“It keeps hurting and I don’t really have explosiveness,” Odister said. “As long as I keep getting rest like I did and playing and being smart about the situation, everything will be fine.”
Odister went 4 of 15 from the field, including 2 of 9 from 3-point land. He leads the Mustangs with 40 3-pointers made this season.
The Mustangs enter next week with a bye on Thursday before heading west to face Hawaii on Saturday. Cal Poly beat the Rainbow Warriors in the first meeting between the teams in San Luis Obispo on Jan. 9. Tip is set for 9 p.m.