After defeating No. 7 seed Cal State Fullerton 87-82 in the opening round of the Big West Tournament, Cal Poly Men’s Basketball fell short in a 58-51 quarterfinal defeat against No. 2 UC Irvine on Thursday, March 11 at the Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas.
Cal Poly (4-20, 1-15 Big West) fought hard and nearly came back from a 22-point deficit early in the first half.
UC Irvine (17-8, 12-4) started the game on fire both offensively and defensively as they took a 9-2 lead with 16 minutes remaining in the first half. The Anteaters recorded their largest lead of the game (22 points) when Jeron Artest hit a three-pointer to extend the lead to 31-9 with seven minutes remaining.
However, the Mustangs closed the first half with a 18-3 run to cut the Anteater lead to 34-27 at the half. The run was kickstarted by eight straight points by sophomore forward Alimamy Koroma, including two made threes.
The Anteaters showed their offensive firepower as they shot 46.4% (13-28) from the field and 50% (3-6) from three while holding the Mustangs to 35.4% (11-31) from the field.
Both teams struggled to find their offensive rhythm in the second half. The Mustangs took advantage of the Anteaters’ offensive struggles and pulled within a one-score game at 43-40 when senior guard Keith Smith made a jumper with 9:03 remaining in the game.
The Mustangs did not shy away down the stretch as freshman forward Brantly Stevenson hit a three-pointer to cut the lead to 52-48 with 3:32 remaining. However, the Mustangs could not complete the comeback as the Anteaters outscored Cal Poly 6-3 in the remaining three minutes of the game to secure the 58-51 victory.
Even though Cal Poly only committed eight turnovers and held the Anteaters to just 24 points during the final 27 minutes, the Mustangs could not overcome their offensive struggles. The Anteaters held the Mustangs to just 29.8% (17-57) from the field and only eight three-pointers on 26 attempts. Koroma recorded a game high of 17 points.
The Mustangs’ run in the tournament came to a close and they will look to improve on their 4-20 record in the 2021-22 season.