The Mustangs’ trapping zone defense was the lone factor keeping Cal Poly in a deadlock with the Gauchos in the first half at the Anaheim Convention Center at the Big West Conference Playoffs Thursday.

In the second half, the offense decided to show up fashionably late as the Mustangs spurted out to an 11-point lead with less than seven minutes to go. But the Gauchos began to heat up, providing for an offensive shootout until the final horn. The Mustangs, led by the bruising play of freshman forward Titus Shelton, held on for a 57-50 win.

The Mustangs advance to the semi-finals to face Pacific at 6:00 Friday.

“We have our hands full,” Mustang coach Kevin Bromley said in anticipation of Friday’s match-up with the all-time leader among Big West schools with 28 tournament appearances.

Shelton finished with 13 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. Half of those rebounds came on the offensive side of the ball during critical possessions in the final minutes.

“Titus with his tip-outs, especially late was crucial…” said Santa Barbara coach Bob Williams. “Seven points came off tip-outs in the second half.”

The first half of the Mustang men’s basketball game against the Gauchos may have brought some to reminisce of the pre-shot clock era. Or even before there was a three-point line.

Knotted at just 18 apiece, Cal Poly and Santa Barbara weren’t exactly setting the roof on fire from the field at the Anaheim Convention Center in a low-scoring affair in the second round of the Big West Conference tournament.

But the second half was a whole different story.

The Gauchos did not score in the first five and a half minutes of action and the Mustangs took advantage of the missed shots to convert on the fast-break.

Mustang guard Dawin Whiten started to get involved on the offensive side of the ball. His three-pointer from the corner and breakaway layup created the early runaway margin.

The Mustangs shot just 22.7 percent from the field in the first half, or five for 22. Luckily, the rivals from down south shot just eight for 29 for 27.6 percent.

But in the second half, the Mustangs shot 45 percent from the field to counter the Gauchos 44 percent.

The Mustangs started off the Big West Conference Tournament in sloppy fashion Thursday, but thanks to Mustang forward Tyler McGinn, the team dodged the proverbial bullet.

In the first 10 minutes of play, McGinn had the Mustangs only five points, a three-pointer and inside layup.

Fortunately, the Mustang zone defense kept the game close. With forward Derek Stockalper and McGinn manning down low, and guards Chaz Thomas and Trae Clark patrolling the outside, the Gauchos were ineffective penetrating the basket.

The Mustangs didn’t lead until the 4:07 mark with Chaz Thomas’ two free throws.

The Gauchos stubbornly stuck to heaving up the three-point ball and were just one from 10 from beyond the arc. The Mustangs weren’t much better at just two for 12.

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