Starting for Cal Poly was returning senior Shawn Lewis as well as juniors Will Donahue and David Hanson. Starting and playing for the first time for Cal Poly were sophomore Chris O’Brien and freshman Jamal Johnson.
Cal State East Bay, which finished 6-23 last season and last in its conference, is one of two Division II teams Cal Poly faces this season. On Saturday night, East Bay was able to contend early in the game, shooting 60 percent in the first 10 minutes of play and holding a 22-20 lead.
Cal Poly managed to play through the first half and grab a 35-29 lead despite shooting 41 percent and two of 11 on 3-pointers.
However, too many unforced errors and missed free-throws kept East Bay in the game and prevented Cal Poly from opening up its lead. Cal Poly committed 18 turnovers, 11 in the second half and shot 58 percent from the free-throw line, making 15 of 26.
After halftime, Cal Poly came out with strong performances from Hanson and Donahue who combined for 24 points and 14 rebounds following the break. As a team, they shot 50 percent from the field and 3-point range.
Cal State East Bay threatened to take control, when a jump shot by guard Donavon Jackson narrowed Cal Poly’s lead to three with eight minutes remaining. But O’Brien answered with a 3-pointer on the next play, ensuring that Cal Poly would never relinquish its lead
Head Coach Joe Callero, in his second season coaching the men’s basketball team after a 12-19 season last year, said he was glad the team got the win, but it needed to learn vital lessons from their mistakes.
“I thought we had way too many turnovers … those are the kind of mistakes you can’t make on the road,” Callero said. “We were pleased that we can learn and still win it. We’ve got to be able to win a game, learn from our mistakes and move on.”
Lewis finished the game with 21 points, two assists, one block and one steal and Hanson lead the team with 25 points including 6-of-6 free-throws and 3-of-6 on 3-pointers.
Hanson, who had an all-around night adding 11 rebounds, two blocks and two steals, said the win was an important way to start the season, especially at home.
“I think it’s huge to start winning here at home,” Hanson said. “I think that’s one of the biggest crowds I’ve seen for an exhibition game. It’s important to set the precedent here at home and develop home court advantage and keep the fans coming.”
Coach Callero said he liked what he saw from veterans Lewis and Hanson but wanted to see more from the bench.
“We looked good when Shawn had touches driving, and David had in-and-out plays and was able to get to the free-throw lines, get some post action and get some take-and-hit three’s,” Callero said. “But we needed to get more out of the bench … and that’s my number one concern right now.”
Five players came off the bench for Cal Poly but only one, Drake U’u, scored any points. In his first collegiate game with Cal Poly, U’u scored nine points on three of five shooting.
Johnson, a freshman who started his first collegiate game as point guard, said he was eager to play in his first game and hopes to improve.
“It was very exciting to be in my first game and start,” Johnson said. “To be able to step out and lead the team, and to do it in a win, was both rewarding and refreshing at the same time. But I could have improved on some things. We got the win but I’ll look at what I can do better.”
Despite playing 26 scoreless minutes, Callero said he was pleased with Johnson’s performance.
“The line from Jamal Johnson was very moderate, but I thought his poise and hustle were very good,” Callero said.
Cal Poly will begin its regular season on the road against Seattle Nov. 14 at 5 p.m. Cal Poly will look to improve upon their record away from Mott Gym after finishing with a 5-12 road mark last season.