The Cal Poly men’s basketball team is off to one of its best starts in conference and home play, but apparently Cal State Bakersfield didn’t get the memo. Two of the Roadrunners’ four wins have come against the Mustangs, notching a 57-53 victory at Mott Gym Saturday night.
The Mustangs trailed for nearly the entire game, but rode a 21-6 run to capture a brief 43-42 lead with just under six minutes to go. Bakersfield hit 7-8 from the free-throw line from that point on to edge Cal Poly.
“We exerted so much energy to get that comeback, never seemed like we hit that big shot to put us ahead by three or five, to get that total momentum to get the crowd (in it),” head coach Joe Callero said.
Since a loss to Montana State Dec. 21, Cal Poly (8-12) had defied preseason expectations with a 5-2 Big West record and 3-1 at home, prior to a 80-57 blowout loss in Santa Barbara Thursday.
“The first five minutes of the game we were flat-footed, we felt like we were still looking in the rear view mirror of what happened to us in Santa Barbara,” Callero said.
While Cal Poly crashed the boards, Bakersfield (4-16) used its speed to capitalize on poor transition defense. The Roadrunners opened the game with a 12-2 run, mounting a 32-20 lead at half.
“They hit us in the face, we weren’t ready for it,” forward David Hansen said. “We had to play catch up.
The Mustangs out-rebounded their opponents 25-5 on the offensive glass, a stat Callero said is indicative of effort but also poor shooting. Cal Poly didn’t shoot the ball confidently, failing to convert numerous second-chance opportunities in the paint. The Mustangs shot just over 30 percent from the field, a drop from a meager 36 percent against UCSB.
Cal Poly had its worst showcase from behind the arc this season, shooting 12.5 percent on two of 16 shooting.
Forward Jordan Lewis put it simply.
“It comes down to finishing,” Lewis said. “We missed a lot of easy shoots, some nights you just have a bad shooting night.”
The crowd at Mott Gym was uneasy, looking for some way to rally the Mustangs. A chant of “de-fense” persisted throughout the first half, but the Mustangs didn’t give their fans much to cheer about.
“The crowd was on the edge of their seat to try to erupt with enthusiasm and make that shot and it just never got over the hump,” Callero said.
Bakersfield kept the crowd quiet by converting 19-23 free throws and shooting 38.3 percent from the field.
A stymied backcourt didn’t bolster the Mustang Maniacs’ enthusiasm either. The Big West’s second leading scorer Lorenzo Keeler, who put up 20 against Santa Barbara, was limited to five points on two of 11 shooting. Keeler and Justin Brown were three of 18 from the field combined.
Big man Will Taylor put up career highs with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Hansen led the team with 17 points and 15 rebounds, but uncharacteristically missed 10 shots, as did forward Shawn Lewis.
Cal Poly faces a critical stretch, 11 of its next 20 games are on the road, with UC Davis and conference-leading Pacific next week.
“We’ve got to refocus,” Hansen said. “Thankfully tonight wasn’t a conference game … we gotta compete more.”