Most homecoming games are associated with large crowds, huge pep rallies and football.
For UC Riverside, it’s all the same except theirs is held on the court.
“The gym was packed with some 4,000 people,” head coach Joe Callero said. “It was just a great crowd.”
Before the homecoming game against Cal Poly this past Saturday night, the Highlanders held a pep rally in which they burned a wooden horse tagged with the words “Cal Poly.”
As the Mustangs (9-15, 6-6 Big West) drove away from the Student Recreation Center, after an 87-84 win again UC Riverside (9-15, 3-9) in double overtime, the team caught a glimpse of the charred Mustang.
“We saw that as we were leaving the gym Saturday night and it added a little sweetness to the victory,” Callero said.
The Mustangs came out of the gates with an early advantage against the Highlanders. Racing out to as big as a 12-point lead in the first half, the Mustangs let their advantage slip to 30-25 heading into halftime.
In the second half, the Mustangs added pieces to their lead, but struggled to hold onto their slim advantage down the stretch. With just under eight minutes left in the game, guard Dowdy Brandon put the Highlanders ahead of the Mustangs, 52-51, with a three-point shot.
The script seemed too familiar to the Mustangs. Another game was slowly tipping toward another second-half collapse. With their fate heading towards another possible loss, senior guard Charles Anderson was not ready to let his team’s five-game losing skid slip to six.
Anderson shot a total of four shots from the field. All of them came from behind the arc and none of them misfired. Everytime UC Riverside tried to embark on a game-ending run, Anderson pulled up and converted another key shot.
“He brings confidence and maturity (to the line-up),” Callero said. “Ever since we put Anderson in the starting line-up against Pacific, I thought we have played well and more aggressive.”
UC Riverside had an opportunity to put the Mustangs away with 14 seconds left in the second half when Brandon was fouled by Anderson tracking down an offensive rebound off a misfire by guard Jalonni Diggs. Brandon went to the line with 14 seconds left in the game, but converted only one of two free throws to tie the game.
“We wanted to make sure at the end of regulation, we had the ball in Keeler’s hands,” Callero said. “We wanted to make sure we got the last shot.”
With the game deadlocked at 66-66, senior guard Lorenzo Keeler took control of the ball. Dribbling near half court while the clock ticked toward zero, Keeler drove down court to unleash a jumper. Keeler couldn’t finish as the Mustangs were forced into their first overtime period of the season.
In the first overtime, both teams exchanged blow for blow. Sophomore forward David Hanson held a chance to win the game as he stepped to the free-throw stripe looking to break a 77-77 tie with one second left in overtime.
Hanson misfired on both attempts as the Mustangs were forced into another overtime period.
“The thing that we try to teach our guys is that we don’t really care what happens to you when you make a mistake,” Callero said. “We are not concerned about the mistake you made; what we are concerned about is how you bounce back emotionally. You can’t hang your head.”
In the second overtime, Keeler committed his fifth foul and saw an early exit. On a team struggling to grasp a hold of senior leadership, freshman guard Kyle Odister was asked to fill in for the second-leading scorer in the Big West.
“He has already earned his stripes,” Callero said. “Although he is a freshman, he shoots the ball with great confidence.”
Odister didn’t disappoint.
In the final minute of the game, Odister converted a three-point shot and two clutch free throws to put the game out of reach for UC Riverside.
The Mustangs were led by four players who tallied double figures.
Hanson recorded a career-high 26 points in the game as he finished eight of 14 from the floor. He recorded four of six from downtown and hit seven of 10 from the line.
Junior Shawn Lewis added 18 points off the bench along with Odister who added 11.
Anderson tied a career-high in scoring with his 13-point effort.
“I thought it was the most important victory on the season for us,” Callero said. “I thought it was our best effort — our best team effort — that we have had all year.”