Cal Poly Men’s Basketball lost to Long Beach State in an 80-73 overtime thriller Thursday, March 5 inside Walter Pyramid. Sophomore guard Junior Ballard scored a game-high 25 points and added a last-second three-pointer to send the Mustangs into their fourth overtime game of the season.
“It was a tough way to lose, we have to learn from that,” head coach John Smith said. “We have to do a better job in the second half of continuing the pace we did in the first half.”
Coming into the game, the Mustangs (7-22, 4-11 Big West) were just one game behind Long Beach State (11-20, 6-9 Big West) and Cal State Fullerton (10-20, 5-10 Big West) in the conference standings. With the loss against The Beach, Cal Poly remains in ninth place in the Big West.
The Mustangs’ final game against UC Santa Barbara (20-10, 9-6 Big West) is a must-win in order to have a chance at qualifying for postseason competition. A Cal Poly win coupled with a Cal State Fullerton loss will see the Mustangs secure the eighth seed in the Big West Tournament.
The game got off to a slow start as neither side was able to establish a rhythm in the first three minutes. The teams combined for four turnovers and three fouls before the first points were scored.
The scoring began with a three-pointer from junior wing Mark Crowe. The Mustangs stretched their lead to 11-3 two minutes later when redshirt freshman Kyle Colvin hit his first three-pointer of the half. Colvin was a key contributor off the bench as he played 32 minutes and scored 13 points with six rebounds.
Behind 55 percent shooting from the three-point range, the Mustangs drew their biggest lead of the night with 3:15 remaining in the half when a Colvin three-pointer put Cal Poly ahead at 34-16. The Beach ended the half on an 8-4 run to bring the halftime score to 38-24.
Despite a weak start to the game, Long Beach State rebounded in the second half and outscored the Mustangs 10-0 in the opening three minutes.
“I thought our heads were pretty straight [in the first half], I thought we were locked in,” Ballard said. “But, we didn’t come out with the energy that we played with in the first half.”
Cal Poly broke the scoring drive on a layup through freshman forward Alimamy Koroma, who went on to score 10 points with eight rebounds off the bench. Less than 30 seconds later, Long Beach State countered with a three-pointer from Jordan Griffin, who scored all of his 18 points in the second half alone.
The Beach’s Chance Hunter made a jump shot with just over 14 minutes left in the half to give Long Beach State their first lead of the game at 43-41. The Beach followed with seven unanswered points to cap off their 26-3 run and take a nine-point lead.
Cal Poly began to chip away at the lead when senior guard Job Alexander hit a free throw to cut the deficit to 57-46 with 8:16 left in the half. Alexander led the Mustangs in minutes (37), assists (6), and rebounds (8) in the loss.
Despite the deficit, Ballard took control of the game and scored 13 points in the last six minutes to keep the Mustangs’ chances alive. Graduate guard Malek Harwell chipped in two of his 11 points on a pair of free throws down the stretch to pull Cal Poly within four points at 59-55.
Long Beach State’s Joshua Morgan scored a jump shot to take a 64-61 lead with one minute remaining before the whistle. However, Ballard followed up with a deep three-pointer with less than one second left on the clock to send the game into overtime at 64-64.
The high-scoring overtime period was evenly matched in its opening minutes. The teams were tied at 70 apiece after a Colvin layup with 2:51 remaining on the clock. However, The Beach took control of the game and scored eight unanswered points to seal the 80-73 victory.
“Looking at the silver lining, our guys showed a lot of resolve and resiliency to send it into overtime after giving up such a huge lead,” Smith said.
Cal Poly will play its final game of the regular season against UC Santa Barbara Saturday, March 7 at 7 p.m.
“We all want to win, we all want the same goal,” Ballard said. “We’re just trying to make it to the tournament and make a run from there.”