Cal Poly Men’s Basketball’s season came to an end at the hands of a UC Santa Barbara buzzer-beater on Saturday, March 7 inside the Thunderdome. The Gauchos went on a 8-0 run in the final minutes of the game before junior guard JaQuori McLaughlin hit a fadeaway jumper as time expired to win the regular-season finale, 69-67.
Coming into the season finale, Cal Poly (7-23, 4-12 Big West) was in a must-win situation to qualify for postseason competition. With the loss, the Mustangs were eliminated from Big West Tournament contention while the Gauchos (21-10, 10-6 Big West) secured the No. 3 seed in the bracket.
Cal Poly opened the game with a quick start as they jumped to an early 16-7 lead after back-to-back three-point jumpers by graduate wing Malek Harwell. The Mustangs extended their lead to double digits at 19-9 after a three-pointer by sophomore guard Junior Ballard.
However, the Gauchos responded by cutting the lead to 23-22 with 3:29 remaining in the first half. The Mustangs closed out the half on a high note as they outscored the Gauchos 12-4 to carry a 35-26 lead into halftime.
In the second half, the Gauchos started to crawl their way back into the game. After Cal Poly took a 38-28 lead thanks to a three-pointer by junior wing Mark Crowe, the Gauchos went on a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 38-35. The Mustangs pushed their lead back to double-digits at 56-43 after three free throws by Harwell. However, the Gauchos’ defensive efforts allowed them cut the lead to just four points at 63-59 with 6:21 remaining.
The Mustangs extended their lead to 67-61 with 3:38 remaining, but were held scoreless for the rest of the game. The Gauchos capitalized on a lost ball turnover by senior guard Job Alexander and scored a game-tying layup with 1:18 remaining.
After a turnover by the Gauchos, graduate guard Jamal Smith was fouled in transition and went to the free-throw line to shoot a one-and-one with 30 seconds remaining. After Smith missed the free throw, the Gauchos set up one last possession to win the game.
McLaughlin ran down the shot clock before he drove into the paint, spun half-way around a defender and hit the buzzer-beating fadeaway to win the game at 69-67.
The Gauchos outscored the Mustangs 8-0 in the final 3:38 of the game.
Cal Poly shot considerably better than the Gauchos at 50 percent (25 of 50) from the field and 43 percent (10 of 23) from the three-point line. The Gauchos shot 42 percent (24 of 57) from the field and 32 percent (7 of 22) from three.
McLaughlin had a game-high 17 points, including the buzzer-beater. Crowe led the Mustangs with 16 points while Smith added 12 points and four rebounds in his final collegiate game.