Cal Poly Men’s Basketball earned its third Big West win of the season with a 92-75 victory over Long Beach State Wednesday, Feb. 5 inside Mott Athletics Center. Sophomore guard Junior Ballard scored a team-high 22 points while sophomore forward Tuukka Jaakkola added 16.
The Mustangs shot 53.1 percent from the field and held The Beach to 43.3 percent field shooting and 29.4 percent from outside the arc. Cal Poly turned the ball over just eight times in the victory.
“It all came down to us playing together,” Jaakkola said. “It’s always nice to score. I wish every night everyone could score twenty points. Today was my night. Saturday we play again, it’s probably going to be someone else’s night.”
Long Beach State junior guard Drew Cobb opened the scoring with the first points of the game as he backed into Ballard before hitting a layup. Jaakkola responded with a layup of his own on the following play.
Redshirt junior point guard Keith Smith combined with graduate guard Jamal Smith to take the lead. Keith drew Long Beach State players into the paint and created space for Jamal, who cut to the basket for a layup to grant Cal Poly a 6-4 advantage.
Keith went on to finish the night with nine points, four rebounds and seven assists in 28 minutes played.
“Keith is the key for us,” head coach John Smith said. “”He’s our engine. He is the fastest point guard in the country, and we want to play fast. If Keith’s on the floor and he’s playing fast and under control, which he has been, and knocking down shots when he needs to, then we’re hard to beat.”
Both teams continued to trade points as the game saw nine lead changes before the halftime whistle. An 8-3 run led by freshman center Joshua Morgan propelled The Beach to a 21-17 lead midway through the half. However, a steal from redshirt junior forward Nolan Taylor led to a fast break by Keith, who scored the ensuing layup for an easy two points.
Redshirt freshman Kyle Colvin was fouled and given the chance to tie the game with just over one minute left to play in the first half. Colvin scored both free throws to tie the game at 34-34 before a Long Beach State turnover handed possession back to the Mustangs.
In the final play of the half, Ballard pump faked and hit a step-back jumper through two defenders to give Cal Poly a 36-34 lead at the whistle.
“After losing to Davis, we watched film, practiced hard, prepared for Long Beach, and just came out with a different mindset,” Ballard said. “I felt like the whole week everyone was locked in. We didn’t like how we lost to Davis, so we came with a different approach.”
Junior wing Mark Crowe kicked off the second half for Cal Poly with an early steal and released Jamal Smith for the team’s opening points. Crowe’s first three of the night gave the Mustangs a six-point lead at 43-37 and prompted a timeout from Long Beach State. Crowe went on score 11 points and secure four rebounds as a vital second half asset.
Cal Poly took full control in the second half and led for all 20 minutes. The closest The Beach came to tying the game was a two-point deficit at 38-36 just 30 seconds into the start of the half. A nine-point scoring run from Cal Poly, the largest of the night, solidified its lead at 70-53 midway through the half.
The Mustangs continued to put on a show for the home fans and achieved their largest lead of the night at 88-68 with two minutes remaining. Within the final two minutes, three different Mustangs hit a three-pointer to close out the victory at 92-75.
Cal Poly will be back inside Mott Athletics Center to take on Hawai’i on Saturday, Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. The last time the teams met, the Rainbow Warriors edged out a 65-61 win in a game that came down to the last possession.
“When we were in Hawai’i, we started out very slow, very sluggish, and we have to make sure that we get out to a better start and then sustain it like we did tonight,” Smith said.