Cal Poly opened up a three-game home stand with a nail-biting 86-82 loss to Big West Conference rival, Cal State Fullerton in a nationally televised game on Thursday night in Mott Gym.
In a game that came down to the wire, the Titans (7-8, 1-2 Big West Conference) were able to hold off Cal Poly (3-10, 0-3) down the stretch to seal their first conference victory.
With less than 34 seconds left in a tie game, a crucial holding call was made against the Mustangs that put Josh Akognon, the nation’s eight leading scorer, at the line. He converted both free throws, putting the Titans up 83-81.
Cal Poly senior guard Chaz Thomas said the foul call was not the deciding factor.
“It is what it is, you have to play with it,” Thomas said. “It’s an 80 possession game; it wasn’t one possession that killed it.”
After a couple fouls going both ways, Cal Poly had a chance to win the game or send it into overtime, getting the ball with 9 seconds left to overcome a two-point deficit.
Sophomore guard Shawn Lewis, who was Cal Poly’s second-leading scorer with 14 points, got the ball and drove hard to the basket, before he put up the potential game-tying shot. It was a little hard off the backboard, but Lewis grabbed the offensive rebound and put up another shot. The ball flirted with the hoop, but then rolled off the rim into a crowd of Titans.
Lewis was clearly frustrated with his attempt after the shot rolled out.
“I was looking for the cutter, but I saw a lane and I decided to take it,” he said. “I’m going to beat myself up after that play.”
ESPNU provided coverage for the game, giving both teams their first televised game of the season. The match-up certainly provided a show, putting seven players in double figures, including Thomas who scored a season-high 23 points.
Having solidified himself as the starting point guard, Thomas played one of the best games of his Cal Poly career. Adding to his point total, he also grabbed a career-high eight rebounds, and passed for a career-high eight assists.
Accounting for two of those assists, Thomas connected with guard, Lewis, for a couple of spectacular alley-oops that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Despite the loss, Kevin Bromley, Cal Poly head coach, was happy with his team’s performance.
“It was entertaining. It was fun. I hope they had fun,” Bromley said. “After all, that is what this is about.”
“We play by three rules. If you have a good attitude, you concentrate, and you have a good effort, it will pay off,” he explained. “I don’t think you can argue about their effort out there tonight.”
Pregame concerns included how the Mustangs would rebound after learning that Trae Clark, a three-year starter and respected leader of this team, would not return to the court this season due to inefficiencies in the academic arena.
According to Bromley, the team is going to miss Clark’s energy, his big smile, and his enthusiasm for the game, but is optimistic about the team stepping up.
“Chaz stepped up in a big way,” Bromley said. “I am proud of Chaz’s performance tonight.”
Thomas believes that the absent of Clark will be a rallying support for the team.
“We lost a soldier,” he said. “We need to rally like troops. We’re playing for him too.