Less than an hour after the Cal Poly women’s basketball team took care of Fresno State, the men’s basketball team got its shot at the Bulldogs.
Looking to avoid their first back-to-back home nonconference losses since the 2005-06 season, head coach Joe Callero stressed before the game that the Mustangs (5-3) needed to start strong and play through the final whistle. That’s exactly what they did.
The Mustangs defeated Fresno State 77-65 behind an electric atmosphere in Mott Athletics Center. The win marked the Mustangs’ second win in their last 18 attempts against the Bulldogs (6-2) and Mustangs’ first home win over the Bulldogs since 1971.
“We didn’t change anything magically, we actually just did what we’re supposed to do for two full halves, 40 minutes, and I think the guys feel great about it,” Callero said.
Though the game was scoreless for nearly three minutes, the Mustangs raced out to a 9-3 lead. After the Bulldogs recorded their first points of the game 4:56 into the contest, senior guard Reese Morgan drained a pair of three-pointers to keep Cal Poly ahead.
With seven minutes remaining in the first half, the Mustangs extended their lead to 20-10. Sophomore forward Luke Meikle and junior forward Zach Gordon stepped in to fill the void created when starter Brian Bennett found himself in foul trouble.
“The nice part was Zach Gordon, Luke Meikle were able to come in and play the zone,” Callero said. “We don’t have to be as much in positions to have a big in there. But Zach gave us valuable minutes. He’s a spark, rebounded it, made a couple free throws, did a nice job.”
Two days after giving up 49 first half points to Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne, the Mustangs headed to the locker room with a 30-24 lead over the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs’ 24 points were the fewest points scored in the first half by any opponent against the Mustangs this season. The Mustangs’ defense held Fresno State to a 28.1 percent field goal percentage and a 30.8 percent three-point shooting percentage.
After the break, the Mustangs went on a quick 5-0 run to take a 38-24 lead two minutes into the second half. They extended their lead to as high as 15 points with 6:02 remaining.
Fresno State began fouling with three minutes remaining and the Mustangs converted 18 of 25 second-half free throws to complete the victory.
“Any time you lose, you want to come back stronger and you want to win, especially with this year’s team,” Meikle said. “We’re a good team, we feel like we can beat anybody. We were just ready to come out tonight and play hard and show it.”
Four Mustangs scored double-digit points on the night. Sophomore guard Taylor Sutlive, who is the sixth player to lead the Mustangs in scoring this year, scored a career-high 16 points. Meikle added 15 points, Morgan chipped in 14 and senior forward Joel Awich scored 10 points. Awich has now scored double-digit points in seven of the Mustangs’ eight games this season.
Cal Poly’s defense held the Bulldogs to 34.8 percent shooting and 22.7 percent from beyond the arc. The Mustangs’ defense also held Fresno State’s NBA-caliber guard Marvelle Harris to just 12 points on 25 percent shooting, well below his season average.
“We want to get stops, but we definitely want to turn our defense into offense and get up the court,” Sutlive said. “We want to score as many points, just like we want to limit their points too.”
With Saturday’s win, the Mustangs have now scored 71 points in all eight of their games this season and have won 16 of their last 19 nonconference home games.
Callero will now give the team four days of rest before resuming practice on Thursday. On Saturday, the Mustangs head up to the Bay Area to begin a 12-day road trip.
Cal Poly begins the road trip by taking on Saint Mary’s on Dec. 14. The Mustangs will get some help from 6-foot-8 freshman forward Josh Martin, who transferred from Minnesota to Cal Poly midway through last year and is finally re-eligible for NCAA tournament play.
The Mustangs next home game is on Jan. 14 against rival UC Santa Barbara. The game will be a “green out,” where the Mustangs encourage all fans to where green in support of Cal Poly.