Cal Poly Men’s Basketball extended their losing streak to four games Wednesday, Jan. 23, with a loss to UC Riverside 51-74 inside Mott Athletics Center. While the Mustangs (4-13, 0-4 Big West) totaled only six turnovers, UC Riverside (8-13, 2-3 Big West) registered 48 rebounds compared to Cal Poly’s 21. The first half of the game concluded at 32-35 before the Highlanders pulled away on a 26-6 run to end the Mustangs’ chance at winning their first conference game of the season.
Senior guard Marcellus Garrick opened the scoring for Cal Poly with a jump shot from the field 24 seconds into the match. While UC Riverside responded with a three-point shot from Martin Dikymbe, Cal Poly followed with four consecutive three-pointers of their own, granting the Mustangs a seven-point lead only six minutes into the game.
“During that period, we had great ball control,” head coach Joe Callero said. “Our offense was going side-to-side, inside-out and there was a variety of different actions occurring.”
However, Cal Poly’s success from the three-point range came to a sudden end as the next four three-point attempts were missed. While the Mustangs struggled to convert their shots, UC Riverside dominated the rebounding department. The result was a 9-0 run by the Highlanders to give them a 16-14 lead with 10 minutes remaining in the half. Both teams traded buckets in an attempt to gain the lead, but neither could mount an advantage greater than five points before halftime.
By the time the first half came to an end at 32-35, the Mustangs were only down three points. But, as Callero explained, it felt as if the team’s confidence was lost.
“The spirit got beaten when [Riverside] got a second or third offensive board,” Callero said. “We went into halftime with a three-point deficit, but it felt like, ‘Here we go again.’ We had a lead, we had tempo control, and we lost it.”
The second half only brought more challenges to the Mustangs, who were held to their second-lowest point total all season. While senior point guard Donovan Fields was able to score seven points of his own in the second half, Cal Poly could only convert two of their 15 chances from the three-point range.
Sophomore guard Mark Crowe shed some insight on what went wrong offensively. Crowe, who has averaged 30 minutes per game since the start of conference, went 4-10 for 11 points.
“We were just not taking the right shots,” Crowe said. “We were trying to get the ball around the perimeter without trying to get it in the paint, so it was poor shot selection on our part.”
Riverside’s 26-2 run in the second half was aided by players Ajani Kennedy and Dragan Elkaz, who combined for 22 points and five boards.
While Callero looked to the bench for energy, the physicality of the Highlanders at the board kept Cal Poly from any chance at a comeback, concluding the game at 51-74.
Fields, who recently passed the milestone of scoring 1,000 career points, finished with a team-high 15 points and four rebounds. He said he believes the team could have made up for poor shooting in other areas.
“It was just one of those nights where we were off,” Fields said. “But, when we’re off like that, we have to be able to do other things like rebounding and staying solid on defense, because if we don’t, then scores like this happen.”
Callero reinforced how important it is for the team to remain positive following their historically bad start to the season.
“You have to have an internal optimism or it’s not very fun to live,” Callero said. “If you think everything is going to happen again, and it’s a broken record, how can you pull yourself out of any situation? There has to be a balance between what frustration is, what fight is, and what optimism is.”
The Mustangs returned to Mott Athletics Center on Saturday, Jan. 26 to face off against Big West Tournament champions Cal State Fullerton (7-12, 3-2) at 7 p.m.