Credit: Kyle Calzia | Mustang News

Cal Poly Men’s Basketball defeated CSUN 74-56 on Saturday, Jan. 11 inside Mott Athletics Center to secure its first Big West victory of the season.

The Mustangs (4-12, 1-1 Big West) shot 52.7 percent from the field behind a team-high 17 points from sophomore forward Tuukka Jaakkola. The Mustangs held the Matadors (6-12, 1-1 Big West), who averages 74.8 points per game, to only 35.8 percent shooting from the field.

“That is what Cal Poly Basketball is,” sophomore guard Junior Ballard said. “We try to pride ourselves on playing defense.” 

Cal Poly opened the game with an early 6-2 lead. However, the Matadors tied the game at 8-8 with a free throw by sophomore forward and reigning Big West Player of the Year Lamine Diane. The Matadors held a 14-12 lead midway through the first half.

Sophomore guard Junior Ballard (24) goes up for a layup during the Mustangs’ game against the Matadors. Ballard scored 15 points in the victory. Kyle Calzia | Mustang News
Sophomore guard Junior Ballard (24) goes up for a layup during the Mustangs’ game against the Matadors. Ballard scored 15 points in the victory. Kyle Calzia | Mustang News

The Mustangs regained the lead at 16-14 after Ballard scored a jumper. Cal Poly continued to convert its chances until a pair of free throws by Jaakkola capped off an 8-1 run, granting Cal Poly its largest lead of the half at 32-24 with 1:23 remaining. The first half closed with the Mustangs ahead 32-25.

Jaakkola had a team-high 10 points in the first half as Cal Poly shot 53.6 percent from the field. The Matadors were held to 36 percent shooting in the first half.  

The Mustangs opened the second half on a dominant 13-2 run to extend their lead to 18 points at 45-27. The Matadors answered with four consecutive points, but the effort was erased after a free throw by senior guard Job Alexander extended Cal Poly’s lead to 22 points at 53-31.

Diane, who averages over 30 points per game as CSUN’s leading scorer, fouled out with 9:34 remaining in the second half. Diane recorded 12 points for the Matadors before being taken out of the game.

“[Diane] is a great player,” Jaakkola said. “He is going to take multiple shots no matter what. The key is to make every shot as hard as you can.”

The Matadors pushed for a late comeback without Diane in the game and cut the lead to 62-49 thanks to a three-pointer by junior forward Lance Coleman II. However, the Mustangs did not allow the lead to reach single digits as they recorded their largest lead of the game at 74-51 with 1:10 remaining in the game. The Mustangs closed out the game with a 74-56 victory.  

“One of the things we talk about with this program is the three pillars: resiliency, competitiveness and collaboration,” head coach John Smith said. “They showed that tonight with the bounce-back [win].” 

The Mustangs registered season-highs in blocked shots (8) as well as rebounds (42) in the victory.

Junior wing Mark Crowe (5) and senior guard Job Alexander (1) celebrate on the sidelines. Kyle Calzia | Mustang News

“The defense was phenomenal,” Smith said. “The attention to detail was on point and the passion to finish every possession the right way was what we were preaching.”

Jaakkola’s team-high 17 points was his second-highest career point total for Cal Poly. Ballard added 15 points off the bench while graduate wing Malek Harwell followed with ten points. 

“I felt Tuukka played the way he is capable of playing every night,” Smith said. “I have been trying to tell him that he is one of the best low post guys in the conference. He just has to believe that.”  

Cal Poly will continue its Big West action in Hawai’i against the Rainbow Warriors on Thursday, Jan. 16 at 9 p.m. Pacific Time.

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