Both Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara Men’s Basketball struggled to find their offense in the first half, but the Gauchos came alive in the second half and defeated the Mustangs 62-57 on Saturday, Jan. 7 inside Mott Athletics Center.
Cal Poly (7-9, 1-3 Big West) has now lost three straight while UC Santa Barbara (12-2, 3-0 Big West) sits atop the Big West.
Coming out of the gate, the Mustang defense was on full display, as the Gauchos were held to just nine points 13 minutes into the game and shot 6-for-20 from the field in the first half.
Despite the Gauchos’ poor offensive outing, the Mustangs only held a three-point lead at halftime due to them shooting a poor mark from the field as well at 7-for-26.
Heading into the locker room, Cal Poly led 19-16.
The game shifted to more offensive-minded play from both sides in the second half, as the Mustangs shot 58% from the field while Gauchos hit an astounding 74% of their field goal attempts, allowing them to take control of the game.
“They found out the way that we were trying to defend their best player, Ajay Mitchell, and he made an adjustment,” head coach John Smith said. “All three of our point guards were in foul trouble… with them on the bench, it’s kind of hard to execute our defense and offensive game plan.”
Five minutes into the second half, Gaucho forward Miles Norris hit back-to-back threes, one of which was a four-point play, to extend their lead to five points.
After some more back-and-forth play, senior center Alimamy Koroma scored two baskets in a row at the seven-minute mark to regain a one-point lead, but the Gauchos immediately responded with a 10-0 run.
It became a free-throw game late, as graduate forward Chance Hunter made a trio of three-pointers in the last few minutes to keep it close, but the Mustangs ultimately fell.
Hunter, who is just shy of 1,000 career points, finished with 19 points while shooting 5-for-8 from beyond the arc. Koroma, meanwhile, dropped 14 points and grabbed six rebounds.
“I feel like impact players need to step up,” Hunter said. “I feel like me and Ali, we’re capable of so much being All-Conference players in the past.
Hunter also cited how he, as well as other veterans, can help from a leadership perspective as the conference season continues on.
“I feel like we need to do our thing as far as being veterans… just set the example,” Hunter said. “We can’t have too many bad games, especially if we want to win in March.”
The Mustangs will travel to Long Beach State for their next Big West matchup on Wednesday, Jan. 11 at 7 p.m. inside the Walter Pyramid.