For 39 minutes, the Cal Poly men’s basketball team controlled its last home game of the season. But the last minute belonged to UC Irvine.
It appeared all but certain that the Mustangs (11-18, 7-9 Big West) would win. Until, UC Irvine staged a furious 38-second, 12-point rally in the final minute of regulation to force overtime. The Anteaters rode their momentum to secure a 91-84 victory on senior night in front of 2,876 fans in Mott Gym.
Trailing by eight points with 48 seconds left to play, Irvine (14-17, 6-10 Big West) cut the deficit to three with a series of three pointers. Irvine’s Darren Moore capped the comeback with a three from the left wing with 0.9 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime. It marked the fourth three-point shot the Anteaters converted in the final minute of play.
Head coach Joe Callero said his team could not recover from what occurred during the final minute of regulation. He also said the last four shots were some of the most spectacular shots that he has seen in his 23 years of coaching.
“Obviously we didn’t regroup,” Callero said. “I thought when we got to overtime that we were hanging our heads a bit. It looked like our energy was down and didn’t look like we had much confidence.”
Callero said he wants his team to learn from the mistakes made in the game and move on to the next play following heartbreaking sequences.
“We can’t control what they did because they did a great job,” Callero said. “We’ve got to focus on what we can do in response to that. We didn’t do a good job of that tonight.”
Callero said he is confident that his team will bounce back since they have experience dealing with tough situations.
Both teams had four players score in double figures on the night. Junior guard Shawn Lewis led all scorers with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Senior Lorenzo Keeler scored 21 points in his final home game, while sophomore David Hanson added 11 points and 10 rebounds. Freshman Kyle Odister contributed 16 points off the bench.
The Anteaters were led by Moore and junior Patrick Rembert who scored 24 and 20 points, respectively. The Anteaters needed the victory to move to No. 7 in conference and advance to the upcoming Big West tournament while Cal Poly sits at No. 6.
Cal Poly built a 13-point lead with 7:15 remaining in the half following a fast-break layup from Keeler that energized crowd. The Mustangs held Irvine to 1-18 shooting to begin the half, but the Anteaters closed the half on an 11-3 run to narrow the gap 33-28 at the half.
The back-and-forth second half was marked by physical play. There were 52 total fouls; the Mustangs went 26-35 from the free-throw line, while the Anteaters converted 35-43. The pesky Anteaters continually fought back as the Mustangs tried to extend their lead, until they eventually tied the game with under a second remaining. Cal Poly was outscored by a 17-10 margin in OT.
Before the game, the Mustangs honored three seniors who played their final game in Mott Gym. Keeler was joined by fellow seniors Charles Anderson and Ryan Darling in pregame ceremonies. Keeler said the feeling was bittersweet beforehand since he knew it was his final home game, but he knew that everything comes to an end at some point. He said he will remember all the people he has met both on and off the court.
“I’ve met some of the greatest people in my life here these last three years at Cal Poly,” Keeler said. “It’s been a blessing, man. I wouldn’t take it back for the world and wouldn’t trade it for nothing.”
It was an emotional night for Darling as well. He said he was disappointed for fouling out of the game, but was proud of the effort he gave on the floor.
“I feel like I left my heart out there,” Darling said. “It’s an unfortunate loss. You always wish that your last home game you want to come away with that victory, but that’s how it goes. We’re still in the tournament so it’s not over yet.”
The Mustangs will get a chance at redemption against UC Irvine come tourney time. The Big West tournament begins on Wednesday March 10 at the Anaheim Convention Center Arena. The winner of the entire tournament receives the league’s automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.
Anderson said the Mustangs are playing their best basketball of the season and must play a complete game in order to be successful in the tournament.
“We have to play a full 40 minutes,” Anderson said. “Teams aren’t going to give in as Irvine showed tonight. We’ve got to learn how to compete for the whole 40 minutes and not let down no matter what the score is. If we do that, we’ll be fine in the tournament.”
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