Cal Poly fell in the Big West semi-finals to No. 1 seeded University of the Pacific 68-57 on Friday at the Anaheim Convention Center Arena.

The Mustangs kept close to the incumbent champion Tigers, but experience and clutch free throw shooting sealed the victory for the Tigers.

“The bottom line was their points off turnovers and the free throw line,” Cal Poly coach Kevin Bromley said.

The Tigers forced just 12 Cal Poly turnovers, but converted those extra opportunities into 18 points.

Free throws became a factor in the waning minutes of the game as Cal Poly was forced to foul the Tigers to keep time on the clock. Pacific finished the game 17-for-18 from the free throw line.

Big West Player of the Year Christian Maraker scored eight of his 12 points from the charity stripe. While the 6-foot-8-inch Swedish product didn’t have a significant scoring output, he dished out five assists while ably navigating the Mustangs’ double-teaming efforts.

Johnny Gray led the Tigers with 18 points on six-of-nine shooting.

Cal Poly Titus Shelton had a game-high 19 points and five rebounds. First team all-conference forward Derek Stockalper chipped in 15 points while Tyler McGinn had 11 for the Mustangs. Only five players score for Cal Poly.

The Mustangs trailed by 11 about midway through the second half, but back-to-back Stockalper and McGinn 3-pointers kept the Tigers from pulling away. The 3-point shot became a huge factor in the game. The Mustangs went nine-for-21 from beyond the arc while the Tigers finished three-of-10.

“If you’ve got good shooters you’ve got to let them shoot,” Bromley said. “We don’t have a Christian Maraker at the post,” although Shelton had a big game at the low post, Bromley said.

The future looks bright

One season ended, but another is just on the horizon and Titus Shelton is the reason Cal Poly fans shouldn’t fret about Friday night’s 68-57 loss to University of the Pacific.

Shelton, a 6-foot-7-inch freshman forward, had 19 points and five rebounds in the Mustangs’ loss to the Tigers, one night after posting his first career double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds in a 57-50 win over UC Santa Barbara.

Cal Poly coach Kevin Bromley was noticeably disappointed in the post-game press conference, but remained optimistic about the team’s future ” Cal Poly loses just two players, starting center Gabe Stephenson and seldom used R.J. Socci.

“We left a pretty good team back at home, too,” Bromley said.

Freshmen Coby Leavitt and Travis Busch were both expected to see plenty of minutes this season, but stress fractures kept both off the floor for a majority of the season. John Manley is another injured Mustang who could have an immediate impact, especially in adding to Cal Poly’s depth at center, as the 6-foot-8-inch center has yet to see significant minutes in his three years in San Luis Obispo.

Combine those three with a pair of transfers in Dreshawn Vance and Matt Hanson sitting out the year for eligibility purposes and you’ve got a decent looking bench.

Out of pure speculation, the Mustangs’ starting line up next year appears to include freshman first-teamer Chaz Thomas at the point, Big West Freshman of the Year Trae Clark at the opposing guard slot, first team all-conference Derek Stockalper at small forward, Tyler McGinn at power forward and Titus Shelton at center. That would leave second team all-conference Dawin Whiten as the sixth man, if he doesn’t start at the two-guard, with Leavitt, Manley and Vance to rotate in at power forward and center while Busch will undoubtedly see plenty of minutes at small forward.

In other words, there’s talent on the team and the Mustangs could be among the top four in the conference when the media and coaches polls come out next season.

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