Hanna Crowley / Mustang News

The Cal Poly men’s basketball team split its weekend games, winning the first game against UC Davis 74-70 Thursday night before losing Saturday night 67-56 to UC Riverside.

Against UC Davis

Thursday’s matchup was the toughest test of the season for the Mustangs (7-16, 2-7 Big West), as the Aggies (14-9, 6-2) are the best team in conference. UC Davis won the first matchup 68-64 and their forward Chima Moneke is one of the players in the running for Conference Player of the Year.

But the Mustangs came out firing early, matching the Aggies in scoring before managing a 32-28 lead at halftime.

Sophomore guard Donovan Fields had eight points in the first half and senior guard Ridge Shipley had six points to lead the offense in the first half. Cal Poly and UC Davis shot similarly in the first half, going 43 and 44 percent from the field respectively, but the Mustangs’ trio of threes helped them get the lead.

From there, it was all about closing out the game.

Moneke looked the part of a Conference Player of the Year candidate by scoring 25 points and grabbing 13 rebounds, both game-highs. But as he and Aggies guards Brynton Lemar and Lawrence White all had double-digit points in the second half, junior guard Victor Joseph added 16 of his 22 points in the second half to lead the Mustangs to victory.

After White knocked down a three to give the Aggies a 63-62 lead, junior forward Luke Meikle hit a go-ahead corner three-pointer to get the lead for good. Head coach Joe Callero called plays for Victor Joseph to run the offense and the Mustangs tightened up defensively to beat the conference leaders.

“Coach [Callero] had the confidence to go four-flat and run the offense through me,” Joseph said. “From there, I just took what the defense was giving me.”

The win was the Mustangs’ second against conference leaders. Their first Big West win came the week before against UC Irvine, conference leaders at the time.

Against UC Riverside

The Mustangs weren’t able to start a win streak Saturday night as UC Riverside (7-13, 5-4) proved too tough of a challenge.

Joseph continued his high-scoring performances, scoring 20-plus points for the fourth game in a row. He scored the game’s first shot, a three-pointer, and started a slew of shots from beyond the arc for the Mustangs.

Hanna Crowley / Mustang News

Senior guard Kyle Toth, sophomore forward Jakub Niziol and Fields all knocked in threes to keep the Mustangs on pace with the Highlanders. Cal Poly went on a 14-3 run to close the first half and hold a 28-25 lead at the break.

The Highlanders made adjustments at halftime, changing schemes on defense and offense as well. They fluctuated more to man-to-man and had their big men, forwards Alex Larsson and Menno Dijkstra, shot from long range to spread the Mustangs’ defense thin.

With the change in scheme, the Highlanders went on a 17-4 run over the first seven minutes of the half. Joseph scored 17 of his 22 points in the second half to keep the game close but the rest of the team struggled on offense. As a team, the Mustangs shot 35 percent from the field in the second half, compared to 47 percent by the Highlanders.

Zach Gordon was the lone bright spot for the Mustangs besides Joseph’s scoring. He had a team-high 12 rebounds and often extended possessions with his offensive rebounding.

“We knew we just had to focus,” Gordon said. “These guys had size and we had to focus on playing our best. Tonight, it wasn’t enough.”

The Mustangs travel to Hawaii (11-11, 5-4) next week in the first of two road games. They’ll be back on home court Feb. 18 for their second game against Hawaii.

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