Junior Anthony Silvestri scored 17 points in the Mustangs victory over Santa Barbara on Saturday afternoon
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Santa Barbara — More than a year ago, Anthony Silvestri was playing pick-up basketball at Cal Poly’s Recreation Center. Now, the junior walk-on is finding his groove with thousands looking on in NCAA gyms.
Silvestri scored a team-high 17 points in 15 minutes of play as the Cal Poly men’s basketball team (6-9, 2-0 Big West) knocked off rival UC Santa Barbara in Goleta for the first time since 2007 with a 72-64 triumph at the Thunderdome.
“The start at Delaware really helped my confidence,” Silvestri said of the turning point for his season. “I hit my first shot of the game and ever since then it seems like they’ve been kind of falling.”
Silvestri got his first-career start in a loss to the Blue Hens on Jan. 4 and led the team with a then-career high 14 points. He bested that against the Gauchos with his 17 points to validate head coach Joe Callero’s announcement at the beginning of the season that the San Francisco native had earned a scholarship for next year.
Then, on Saturday, Silvestri’s 3-pointer with 7:11 left in the first half gave Cal Poly a lead it would never relinquish.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to put the brown thing in the round thing and he does that as well as anybody in the conference,” Callero said of Silvestri’s shooting touch.
Along with Silvestri’s double-digit performance in which he sank five 3-pointers, the Mustangs got 34 points from the bench and had four different players in double-figures for the night.
But arguably the biggest sequence came from senior forward Chris Eversley in the waning moments of the Blue-Green Rivalry.
After UC Santa Barbara (9-5, 0-1) cut the Cal Poly lead to three points with 4:01 left in the game, Eversley hit a jumper and a 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions to pull away from the Gauchos.
“It’s definitely good to have those shots fall,” Eversley said. “I worked on it this summer and I was able to knock down some shots at the end.”
With the win, the Mustangs halted a six-game slide at the Thunderdome. It was only the third time in the program’s Division I history that the Mustangs beat the Gauchos on their home court.
“We always seem to struggle on the road, so it’s nice to get that first road win of the season against a really good team,” Silvestri said.
The Big West’s Preseason Player of the Year Alan Williams led all scorers with 33 points, 22 of which came in the second frame for UC Santa Barbara. But the Mustangs’ defense shut down the rest of the Gauchos as only one other player scored in double-figures.
“We knew (Williams) was going to get his and then it was that fact of containing everybody else … our game plan worked tonight,” Eversley said.
The Mustangs shot 45.3 percent from the field, including 11 for 18 from downtown compared to the Gauchos’ 2 of 17 shooting from 3-point land.
Sophomore wing David Nwaba scored 14 points, including four free throws inside 1:30 to go in the game that helped ice the victory. Everlsey added 13 and freshman guard Taylor Sutlive helped ignite Cal Poly’s bench as he hit three 3-pointers and scored 11 points.
“The way the bench played, it bought minutes for (the starters), it bought the energy and gave us energy in that first part of the second half,” Callero said.
In its first two league games, the Mustangs have now defeated the top two teams in the Big West in terms of records entering conference play. Cal Poly beat Hawaii 77-65 at home on Thursday.
The Mustangs will return home for their next two games with matchups against Cal State Northridge on Thursday and Long Beach State on Saturday. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. in Mott Athletics Center for both games.