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Cal Poly continued its recent slide of poor performances Thursday night in a 67-59 loss to Cal State Fullerton at Mott Athletics Center (MAC).
The Mustangs have now lost four straight at home, after starting the year with five consecutive wins in the MAC.
The Mustangs found themselves trailing by the largest deficit of the season heading into halftime, down 39-24 and shooting under 30 percent from the field.
“The energy in that first half was unacceptable,” head coach Joe Callero said.
But Cal Poly was unable to fully recover in the second half, even outscoring the Titans 35-28 in the final 20 minutes. After the loss, Callero plans to turn the team around.
“The bad news is that it slides us down to the bottom half of the conference,” he said. “The good news is that there is still two and a half weeks of conference play before we try to put ourselves in a position for a playoff run.”
The bright spot of Thursday’s loss was found in Cal Poly’s leading scorer and offensive catalyst Chris Eversley. The senior recorded his fourth double-double of the season and the twelfth of his career with 19 points and 12 rebounds.
However, the forward attributes his performance to the players around him.
“The guys have confidence in me, and I have confidence in my teammates,” Eversley said. “I’m going to say that until the last time I play. The stats are a little bit skewed, because everybody else is playing just as hard.”
Eversley has strayed away from his dominant style of play at times this year, but Callero said he must remain the team’s go-to player.
“He said to me after the Long Beach game, ‘Coach, I really think I have to get myself back in there and be an interior threat,’” Callero said. “Getting Chris Eversley back to being a double-double machine is a priority for us.”
Eversley may have been inconsistent on the offensive end for the Mustangs in recent weeks, but Thursday’s performance validated his claim for more touches in the paint. However, the forward’s recent struggles have been a representation of the overall team’s lack of consistency.
The Mustangs have failed to score more than 62 points in nine of their last ten contests, while allowing 64 points per game this season.
Thursday’s loss was a direct representation of such struggles, as Cal Poly missed three dunk opportunities and several layups while shooting a mere 15 percent from three-point range.
“Good teams make those plays,” Callero said. “I think we can be a good team. But we’re not a good team right now.”
The coaching staff has dug deep into the reserves recently, and in Thursday’s contest 12 Mustangs touched the floor. Starting forward Eversley agreed with the decision to involve so many bench players for the purpose of preparing the team for the grueling postseason schedule.
“When you have a lot of guys that have been in those game situations, you never know when you’re going to need somebody,” he said. “Everybody’s on this team for a reason. Everybody has their own special talent. When we get to March we want everybody to have some game experience.”
This newly-granted opportunity for the reserves is personified in the form of junior wing Michael Bolden.
Bolden was involved in the player rotation early in the season, but soon fell into the abyss of the bench.
The junior found his way back into the rotation in Cal Poly’s game against Long Beach State, when he converted two three-point baskets and impressed on the defensive side of the court as well, Callero said.
“Mike waited his time,” Callero said. “He’s given us backup minutes for David Nwaba now — significant backup minutes where we don’t lose anything defensively, maybe even gain defensively. It was just a gold find because he gave us the right amount of defense and length that we needed.”
Bolden is now the leader of the second unit and in the closing weeks of the season, he believes the chemistry among the bench players is growing more cohesive each day.
“We all have a lot of practice time together,” Bolden said. “So we all know each other’s tendencies, where we like to catch the ball, and what kind of shots we’re good at. So we all try to incorporate our strengths into the game.”
The Mustangs are now 5-7 in conference play, but the players all feel they have a role in getting the team back on track, Bolden says.
“I think everybody contributes,” he said. “Everybody has something they can do. It’s all just a matter of putting it together on the same day.”
The team remains optimistic heading into their last four conference games, and Eversley believes the team will improve in the final month of his Cal Poly career.
“Until we lose the final game of the season, the sky has not fallen,” he said. “Until I play my last game in this jersey, the sky has not fallen. We’re going to wake up tomorrow, go to practice and we have another game on Saturday.”