Junior forward Joel Awich slams home a dunk in the Mustangs' 65-44 victory over San Francisco State. | Ian Billings/Mustang News

Harry Chang
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The Cal Poly men’s basketball team (1-1, 0-0 Big West) won its home opener against San Francisco State (0-1, 0-0 CCAA) on Tuesday night 65-44 in front of an excitable Mott Athletics Center crowd.

The Mustangs, playing in their first home game since Cal Poly’s first-ever NCAA tournament appearance last season, bounced back after losing 65-49 to Nevada in their first game Saturday to get their first win of the year.

“I think with tonight, one of the things you have to understand is there was a lot of adrenaline for our guys,” head coach Joe Callero said. “The guys have been looking forward to coming back here for eight months.”

The excitement showed.

The Mustangs got out to an early 8-0 lead in the first six minutes and were able to hold the Gators to only two field goals through the first 10 minutes.

The fast start was due in large part to strong play up front by junior forward Brian Bennett.

The 6-foot-9, 253-pound junior asserted himself early, going 3-of-3 from the field with two free throws while also recording six rebounds, a block and a steal in the first half to help stifle the Gators attack. Bennett finished with 13 points and seven rebounds.

“Knowing that I have size to throw around down there (helped me),” Bennett said. “(San Francisco State’s) big men are athletic and just knowing that if I could take that athleticism by hitting them early that I could be aggressive helped. It went pretty good, I’d say, for myself and our team tonight.”

The solid defense in the first half did not go unanswered by the offense, who contributed some big runs and momentous plays of their own to keep the lead comfortable.

Junior guard Reese Morgan, who did not start after leading the team in points against Nevada, came off the bench with 15 minutes to go in the half. Morgan made a big impact minutes later, sparking the offense with a three-pointer that emphatically responded to the Gators’ first three-pointer of the night the play before.

In the final seconds of the first half, sophomore guard Ridge Shipley found junior guard David Nwaba, who was cutting behind the Gators defense, with a lob pass for a huge alley-oop. The play sent the crowd into a frenzy and the Mustangs into the half with a 12-point lead (see below).

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“Our fans (keyed the run),” Nwaba said. “Our fans got the best of them, I think. They were loud and we were playing aggressive.”

Nwaba, who came into the game with questions about his readiness after injuring his ankle Saturday against Nevada, quelled any health doubts by turning in a 13-point, seven-rebound performance.

The hungry crowd got another exciting play from the offense in the second half when a fast-breaking Morgan found his trailing runner, junior forward Joel Awich, for an off-the-backboard put-in (see the dunk below).

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Midway through the half, the Gators got as close as they would all night, going on a 10-3 run helped by a layup from junior forward Jon McMurry and a few untimely turnovers by the Mustangs that brought the Cal Poly lead down to eight.

“(We had one or two issues with) the control of the ball,” Callero said. “A few turnovers here and there that I didn’t think we had to have where we just were not expecting the trap. And they did a good job, give them credit there.”

The Mustangs, however, responded with a 7-0 run of their own, which the Gators would never overcome.

“Our concentration and focus I thought was the best part, that ‘we answered their answer,’ as I told the team,” Callero said. “It’s a game I’m pleased with, an effort I’m pleased with, and most importantly a game plan, a concentration from our guys that I’m really pleased with.”

The Mustangs will host Delaware on Friday in the first-ever game on the Central Coast featuring two teams coming off an NCAA tournament appearance.

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.

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