Cal Poly Men’s Basketball, the No. 10 seed in the Big West Tournament, defeated No. 7 seed Cal State Fullerton 87-82 in the first round of the tournament on Tuesday, March 9 at Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas.
“We came into this conference tournament in our eyes 0-0,” sophomore guard Colby Rogers said. “We let the past be in the past, learned from our mistakes and executed our game plan.”
Cal Poly’s victory is historic as it marks their first Big West Tournament victory since the Mustangs won it all in 2014. The victory also marks the first Big West Tournament win by a No. 10 seed since UC Irvine defeated No. 7 seed UC Santa Barbara in 1994.
“Regardless of if you are the 10th seed or the first seed you have an opportunity to survive and advance and that is the beauty of March Madness,” head coach John Smith said.
The Mustangs (4-19, 2-15 Big West) set the tone early in the game after taking a 17-3 lead after the opening 6:30. After the Titans (6-10, 5-7 Big West) cut the lead to 20-15, the Mustangs again extended their lead to double digits at 25-15 after a Rogers made jumper.
“I thought we came out and really set a good tone,” Rogers said. “We wanted to come out aggressive and we are coming to win.”
The Mustangs pushed their lead to 36-24 after senior wing Mark Crowe made a three-pointer. However, the Titans answered once again and closed out the half on an 8-0 run to cut Cal Poly’s lead to 36-32 at halftime.
At the end of the first half, the Mustangs shot 60% (6-10) from three-point range and recorded a 51.7 (15-29) percent field goal percentage. Meanwhile, the Titans only shot 37.9% (11-29) from the field.
The Mustangs continued their great offensive performance in the second half as senior guard Keith Smith and Crowe hit back-to-back three-pointers to give Cal Poly a 49-37 lead with 15:07 remaining.
Cal Poly led by as many as 15 points in the second half and held a comfortable 78-65 lead with 3:39 remaining. However, the Titans clawed back into the game and cut the lead down to 85-82 with 55 seconds remaining after a made three-pointer by Tory San Antonio.
Fullerton could not tie the game after Landis Spivey missed a three-pointer with five seconds remaining and the Titans were forced to foul freshman forward Brantly Stevenson. Stevenson sank both of his free throws to give the Mustangs the 87-82 first-round victory.
“This win shows us that nothing is impossible, and we can do it,” Rogers said.
The Mustangs, who are last in the conference in points per game, were lights out offensively. Cal Poly shot 56.6% (30-53) from the field, 66.7% from three (12-18) and had five players in double figures.
Rogers led the Mustangs with 21 points, while sophomore forward Alimamy Koroma added 18 points and four rebounds in only 16 minutes.
“[Rogers] had a phenomenal game and I think it settled down some of the younger guys like Kobe Sanders,” coach Smith said. “Colby is one of the most mature 19-year-olds you will ever meet.”
The Mustangs will look to continue their run in the Big West Tournament when they play No. 2 seed UC Irvine on Thursday, March 11 at the Michelob ULTRA Arena.