Cal Poly Men’s Basketball fell to conference-leaders UC Irvine 82-76 Thursday, Feb. 27 inside Mott Athletics Center. Sophomore guard Junior Ballard and freshman guard Colby Rogers led the Mustangs with 13 points each while searching for Cal Poly’s first home win over the Anteaters since 2013.
“Our team has really grown and they’ve really fought this whole year,” head coach John Smith said. “You know, we still have one more week to try and possibly get in the [Big West Tournament], but tonight was special because of the of the fight that they’ve shown.”
The Mustangs opened the scoring with a steal from senior forward Job Alexander, who drove across the length of the court before drawing a foul while going up for a basket. In his final game inside Mott Athletics Center, the senior went on to score a season-high 12 points.
“I feel like we competed today and I gotta live with that,” Alexander said. “[It was my] last game at Mott so there’s no excuse, like leave it all out there. Our fans deserve it, we deserve it and it was a big game for us.”
UC Irvine responded through senior guard Evan Leanard, who hit the game’s opening three-pointer to take a 3-1 lead. Graduate guard Jamal Smith put himself on the scoresheet after driving through multiple players and dropping in a layup for to even the game at 3-3.
However, the Anteaters went on a 7-0 run to pull away from the Mustangs and take a 10-3 lead. Alexander connected with Smith for a layup to break their scoreless streak before Alexander followed up with a jumper during the next possession. The Mustangs struggled to contain UC Irvine’s offense as senior guard Eyassu Leonard hit a deep jump shot to take a 12-7 lead.
The Anteaters picked up the pace yet again in a 6-0 scoring drive to extend their lead to 18-9, but the Mustangs responded with a run of their own to pull back within two points at 20-18.
A deep three-pointer from Ballard gave the Mustangs the lead at 28-26, but Cal Poly failed to hold onto its momentum during the rest of the half. The Mustangs went into the halftime break down by five points at 40-35.
Graduate wing Malek Harwell started the second half with a three-pointer before UC Irvine scored five unanswered points to take a 45-38 lead. With just over sixteen minutes left, the Mustangs tied the game at 47-47 through a jump shot from sophomore forward Tuukka Jaakkola.
A spell of possession from UC Irvine prompted a Cal Poly timeout with 13:34 left to play. Over the next five minutes, UC Irvine built a 12-point lead through drives from Eyassu and Tommy Rutherford. Cal Poly cut the Anteaters’ lead down to six points, but late push was not enough as UC Irvine ultimately won, 82-76.
The loss capped off the 2019-20 home schedule for Cal Poly, who finished with a 7-6 record inside Mott Athletics Center. Smith said the winning record “had to do with the support we’ve received this whole year.”
“It’s tough taking over a program and trying to get it off the ground,” Smith said. “We’re still working on that, but with the help of everybody, the energy was unbelievable tonight and that helped us through some rough spells.”
The Mustangs will be on the road for their next game against Long Beach State Thursday, March 5 at 7 p.m.