[follow id =”JJJenkins7″]
DAYTON, Ohio — If Cal Poly was nervous for its first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history, it didn’t show. The Mustangs raced out to a 12 point halftime lead and maintained a comfortable cushion throughout the second half, eventually beating Texas Southern 81-69. It was the most points scored for Cal Poly against a Division I opponent all season.
The team — sporting the worst record in the tournament — will face undefeated No. 1 seed Wichita State on Friday in St. Louis.
On Wednesday, the Mustangs shot 56.9 percent from the field after averaging 41 percent during the season.
Paced by senior forward Chris Eversley’s 19 points, Cal Poly got production from all over the court. Sophomore wing David Nwaba continued his torrid interior game, hitting 7 of 11 shots, and scored 17 points.
“If we can move the ball side-to-side and guys like Dave (Nwaba) driving on one lane and Kyle (Odister) shooting on the other, it makes life a lot easier,” Eversley said. “… It makes our offensive look like a well-trained orchestra, everyone is playing their own instruments, but together we sound great.”
Nwaba has posted double-digit point totals in Cal Poly’s past four games, all wins for the Mustangs. As a wing, he normally drives to the baseline to either score or dish the ball, but recently he’s popped outside to the free throw line and knocked down midrange shots, making him more dangerous.
“I’m being more aggressive,” Nwaba said. “I’m trying to give my teammates the ball as much as I can, trying to get the best shots on the floor at the same time.”
The Mustangs led by 12 at halftime — in large part by committing just one turnover — but early in the game it looked like Texas Southern center Aaric Murray would tear up Cal Poly’s post players. He scored the Tigers first six points, all on dunks, and finished the game with 38 points on 14 of 23 shooting. He also hit three 3-pointers.
Cal Poly advances to the round of 64 where they’ll meet the No. 1 Shockers. A No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed in 116 tries. That hasn’t stopped head coach Joe Callero from believing his team can be the first.
“I was cheering for the past five years that a 16 seed never upset someone,” he said. “I thought, if we ever get a bid, we’d probably be a 16 seed and we’d have a chance to make some history there.”
The win marked only the second time a team with 19 losses won an NCAA Tournament game, the last was Bradley in 1955.
Callero is hoping that two extra days — at least — in the media spotlight in advance of their game on Friday will bring more recognition to Cal Poly and the Central Coast. Having people be able to pronounce the “Luis” in San Luis Obispo correctly was one of his goals.
For now, St. Louis sounds just fine.
Correction: The original version of the story stated 81 points was the most scored by Cal Poly all season, it was the most scored against a Division I opponent.