Heading into Thursday night’s game against UC Irvine, the Cal Poly men’s basketball team knew it would have to make up for the absence of formerly starting senior guard Dawin Whiten. It just didn’t know quite how it would until game time.
Cal Poly momentarily found some answers while snatching a 57-56 victory from the Anteaters at Mott Gym in a Big West Conference win that saw eight Mustangs play at least 18 minutes, and reserve freshman guard Shawn Lewis score a season-high 12 points.
UC Irvine had won five of its past seven games and seven of its previous 10 coming into the contest, but senior forward Patrick Sanders, its leading scorer, with 15.2 points per game, sat out with a knee injury.
Along with the Anteaters (9-13, 4-5 Big West), Cal Poly (9-12, 4-5) was also lacking a potent offensive threat in Whiten, whose plantar fasciitis will probably keep him from playing the rest of the season, Cal Poly head coach Kevin Bromley announced Monday.
“This whole group has to figure out what life is going to be like without Dawin and I think we’re still doing that,” Bromley said.
Lewis especially seemed to begin to fill Whiten’s shoes.
“The coach needed someone to step up, so, you know, I’m ready to take that roll,” Lewis said following the win.
It was another Mustang, though, who came through in the clutch when Cal Poly needed it most.
With the game tied at 56 with seconds remaining, Cal Poly junior guard Trae Clark dished to senior forward Matt Hanson, who was fouled in the lane with 1.4 seconds on the clock.
“Trae had great poise on that one,” Bromley said. “He penetrated to kick instead of penetrating all the way to the rack.”
Hanson, who entered the game shooting just 39 percent from the free-throw line, missed his first attempt from the charity stripe but hit the second.
Bromley inserted 6-foot-9 junior forward Coby Leavitt for the final play to block the inbounder’s vision, which led to UC Irvine’s hail-Mary pass at the end of regulation being in vain.
“I really think we needed this game to boost our confidence again,” said Lewis, who shot 4 of 6 from the floor and 4 of 4 from downtown.
Lewis hit two consecutive 3-pointers for the Mustangs around the 12-minute mark of the first half. Junior guard Chaz Thomas, who also came off the bench, hit another 3 the following possession to push the Mustangs lead to 18-14.
Bromley substituted often in the first half, and 10 players saw court time while seven put points on the board.
At the end of the half, the Mustangs failed to score in the last four minutes and 26 seconds while shooting 0 for 4, including 0 of 3 from beyond the arc.
Luckily for the Mustangs, though, the Anteaters made just one basket in the last five minutes as well. Cal Poly led 26-23 at halftime.
The first three Mustangs baskets in the second half were from long range, as Clark hit two and sophomore guard Lorenzo Keeler popped one. Although Cal Poly shots were falling, UC Irvine responded with long balls of its own.
At the 15-minute mark, the game was tight, at 35-34 in Cal Poly’s favor.
The score bounced back and forth each possession for the ensuing three minutes. Hanson and Vance pounded the boards and converted some tough shots in the paint while drawing fouls for the Mustangs.
Lewis hit a third 3 at the 11-minute mark to put the Mustangs up 42-40, and then converted from deep again to push the lead to 45-40. On the following possession, Thomas picked off a lazy pass in the lane and converted an easy layup to push the lead to seven.
UC Irvine sophomore guard Chad DeCasas kept the Anteaters alive with 4-of-7 shooting from deep. After his fourth long ball around the seven-minute mark of the second half, the score was 49-47 in the Mustangs’ favor.
A Vance dunk put the Mustangs up 54-52 with under two minutes to go, but UC Irvine’s Marcus McIntosh, who had five points on the night, drew a foul the following possession and tied the affair after hitting two free throws.
Clark put the Mustangs back in front with two free throws of his own before Anteaters junior forward Kevin Bland hit a shot with one second left on the shot clock to tie the game at 56.
On the night, the Mustangs shot 41.7 percent from the field and 56.3 percent from behind the arc.
The Anteaters, who beat Cal Poly 73-69 on Jan. 12, converted 41.2 percent from the floor and 31.8 percent from 3-point range.
Vance added 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds while Clark and Keeler added 10 and nine points for the Mustangs, respectively.
UC Irvine’s Darren Fells led all scorers with 18 points, while DeCasas finished with 16.
Cal Poly hosts Cal State Fullerton at 7 p.m. Saturday.