Jefferson P. Nolan
Chris Eversley could not wipe the grin off his face.
After recording his sixth double-double of the season and notching a career-high 30 points Saturday night in Mott Athletics Center, the junior forward and the Cal Poly men’s basketball team (9-9, 5-3 Big West) seized a 75-64 victory against Cal State Northridge (10-11, 1-8). The win moved the Mustangs into third place in the Big West behind Long Beach State, which hasn’t lost since dropping a game to Cal Poly on Jan. 3, and Pacific.
The crowd was invested from the first minute of the game. Eversley’s smile was infectious.
“The only thing that gets (the team) going is our energy,” Eversley said. “I feel as though myself and a couple of other guys on the team can be high-energy guys. The rest of the guys feed off that. Then, we can just go out there and have fun. I think that’s what is important, and that’s what helped us tonight.”
An extremely physical beginning to the game held its course throughout the matchup. Timely passes by Cal State Northridge hit a few unguarded players for go-ahead points.
But the Mustangs matched the pressure with more pressure.
Cal Poly responded with a pick-and-roll offense, but a 3-point buzzer beater by Drew Landon put the Matadors in the driver seat at halftime with a 37-32 lead.
Unlike last season’s victory against the Matadors (when the Mustangs sank their first 11 3-point attempts), Cal Poly began the game 0 of 9 on 3-point shots. It wasn’t until there were 12 minutes left to play in the second half that back-to-back 3-pointers by Eversley and junior guard Kyle Odister put the Mustangs up 53-49.
“It was a big swing of momentum,” Odister said. “The whole team was in it. We picked it up on defense, and I think that’s what brought us back to win. I just wanted to come into the game, be aggressive and take open shots when necessary.”
The first time either team led by more than five points came after Eversley passed his career high point mark with 7:30 to play to make the score 63-57.
“I was just having fun,” Eversley said. “When you’re having fun, you don’t get tired. That’s one thing my dad and mom have stressed. You make it more of an escape from life. If you realize it’s just a game, but you love it so much, you can just take it and run with it.”
Freshman center Brian Bennett and redshirt freshman Joel Awich were able to contribute to the Mustangs’ victory as well.
“(Awich) was trying to learn the game last year,” head coach Joe Callero said. “He was just trying to play at a faster, more aggressive speed. He’s had the energy and enthusiasm. He’s not thinking now. He’s letting his athleticism be aggressive.”
Bennett finished the night with 17 points, tying his career high mark.
Cal Poly finished the night by making 24 of 29 of its free throws while Cal State Northridge hit just 12 of 16.
“They were so aggressive on the perimeter that we had to attack,” Callero said. “If you try to move backwards, you’re dead. We had that interior game going on. That’s the game right there.”
As the final buzzer rang, Eversley slammed the ball through the net and brought the Cal Poly crowd to its feet.
“Chris has had a smile on his face since the day he left Chicago and came to this campus,” Callero said. “(He) carries that energy and positive enthusiasm to the entire team and entire community.”
The Mustangs will look to rekindle that smile when they travel to UC Irvine on Wednesday and hope to extend their winning streak to three games.