The men’s basketball team dropped their ninth conference game of the season Saturday in an 82-61 loss to Hawaii after beating CSUN 85-71. The split puts the Mustangs (8-18, 4-9 Big West) in eighth place in the Big West with four games left in the season.
The Mustangs never trailed in the first of their season series against the Matadors (11-14, 7-5), winning in dominant fashion behind a potent offensive attack led by sophomore guard Donovan Fields.
Fields had a game-high 23 points and tied for the team lead with four assists. The sophomore made his most shots in a game this season, going 10 for 16 from the field. His effectiveness in driving to the basket opened up spots on the arc for the other shooters on the team, as three of his four assists went to three-pointers by sophomore forward Jakub Niziol.
Niziol had a season-best 15 points coming off the bench despite making just four shots from the field. He knocked in three of his four shots from beyond the arc and added another four points from the line.
The Mustangs started the game off hot and went on a 15-3 run to get out to a 23-10 lead halfway through the first half. Senior guard Kyle Toth then came into the game and hit multiple shots from beyond the arc, keying a 16-3 run to close the first half that had the Mustangs up by 23 at half time.
From there, the Mustangs kept the advantage in the second half to come home with a 14-point win over one of the top four teams in the Big West Conference.
Toth, who was a regular starter for most of the season, also came in off the bench and ended up as one of the five Mustangs in double figures in the win, joining Fields (23), Niziol (15), junior guard Victor Joseph (15) and senior guard Ridge Shipley (11). His 11 points were the most for the senior in the past six games.
The win came after a loss to Hawaii on a road trip that included a visit to Pearl Harbor in Honolulu.
“A critical part of what we do as coaches is to educate,” head coach Joe Callero said on Mustang Gameday. “Not just basketball, but life. The game of basketball is just that — it’s a game. When you’re there [Pearl Harbor] and you have a chance, I think it helps the players grow up, mature.”
Saturday night featured another game for the Mustangs with no lead changes, but in this one the Rainbow Warriors led for all 40 minutes.
Hawaii (13-13, 7-5) came out firing, jumping out to a 22-9 lead and making 11 of its first 16 shots. To their credit, the Mustangs battled back over the rest of the first half, closing the gap to three points before heading into halftime down 44-37.
Hawaii forward Noah Allen proved a tough task for Cal Poly’s defense, scoring 20 points in the first half on 7 of 9 shooting from the field (4 of 5 from three-point range) and 2 for 2 from the line.
Shipley and Joseph did their best to counteract Allen’s production with sweet shooting of their own, totaling 21 points in the first half on a combined 8 for 15 from the field.
The Mustangs brought the game to within three points again coming out of halftime as Shipley and Joseph each made a shot to put the score at 44-41. But Allen and the Warriors offense continued their prolific shooting in a 19-5 run that put the game almost completely out of reach for Cal Poly.
That three-point deficit three minutes into the second half was the closest the Mustangs would get to victory for the rest of the game. The Warriors matched shots with the Mustangs over the final stretches of the game and kept the lead all the way to the 82-61 win.
This loss keeps the Mustangs in eighth place in the Big West, two games back from next-best UC Riverside. With four more games until the conference tournament, the Mustangs will start to try gaining momentum with a rematch against Long Beach State (13-16, 8-5) on the road