Cal Poly Men’s Basketball scored a season-low 16 points in the first half of its 61-49 loss to UC Riverside on Saturday, Feb. 22 inside Mott Athletics Center.
With the loss, the Mustangs (7-20, 4-9 Big West) slipped one game behind the Highlanders (15-14, 5-8 Big West) into last place in the nine-team conference standings. To qualify for the Big West Tournament, the Mustangs must finish one game ahead of the Highlanders since UC Riverside holds the tiebreaker as a result of sweeping Cal Poly this season. Cal Poly has three games remaining in conference play.
“We missed a lot of shots that we normally make,” graduate wing Malek Harwell said. “We just have to dial in and do all the dirty work ourselves to get those open looks for each other.”
After a slow start to the first five minutes of play, the Highlanders had a 6-2 lead thanks to a three-pointer from forward Arinze Chidom. UC Riverside was held scoreless for the next five minutes as the Mustangs gained a 7-6 lead through back-to-back three-pointers.
However, Highlander guard George Willborn III caught fire and hit two consecutive three-point jumpers as UC Riverside regained a 12-9 lead, which kickstarted an 11-0 run. During UC Riverside’s 11-0 run, Chidom made two consecutive three-pointers to provide the Highlanders a 20-9 lead with 4:04 remaining in the half.
The Mustangs ended their six and a half minute scoring drought with a layup by junior forward Nolan Taylor to cut the lead to 20-11. Redshirt junior guard Keith Smith scored a pair of free throws to end the half, but the Mustangs went into the break trailing by eight points at 24-16. The Mustangs struggled to score the in the first half as they shot 25 percent (5-for-20) from the floor and committed eight turnovers.
While the Mustangs scored a season-low 16 first-half points, their defense kept them close behind as they only gave up 24 points to the Highlanders. In addition, the Mustangs held the Highlanders to 36 percent (9-for-25) shooting from the field.
“This game, we tried to pressure up a bit more and force them into hard situations,” Keith Smith said. “That helped us in the first half when they scored 24 points.”
UC Riverside started the second half with an 8-2 run to extend their lead to 32-18. UC Riverside pushed their lead to 44-26 as the team hit three-pointers on back-to-back possessions. However, the Mustangs clawed their way back into the game after a 7-0 run cut the deficit to 46-37. The scoring drive was capped off by a three-pointer from Harwell with 6:45 remaining in the half. The Highlanders held off Cal Poly’s late push as UC Riverside ultimately won, 61-49.
Freshman guard Colby Rogers led the Mustangs with 17 points while Harwell added nine points and six rebounds. Overall, the Mustangs shot 28.8 percent (15-for-52) while the Highlanders shot 40.9 percent (18-for-44).
“We are not done yet,” Harwell said. “I do not think anyone in our locker room thinks we are done.”
The Mustangs will host UC Irvine on Thursday, Feb. 27 at 8 p.m. The home game, which is Cal Poly’s last of the season, will air on ESPN-U. To close out the season, the Mustangs will play two consecutive road games against Long Beach State on Thursday, Mar. 5 and UC Santa Barbara on Saturday, Mar. 7. Both games are scheduled to start at 7 p.m.
“We control our own destiny,” coach Smith said. “We have three games to try and fix that, but we have to take it one game at a time.”