During Cal Poly’s pre-game warmups, players were loose.

Redshirt Chris Eversley smiled and exchanged a high-five with a young ball boy. Forward David Hanson laughed and gave a high-five to assistant coach Omar Lowery. And multiple players seemed to be beaming on the court in the final game of the Mustangs current homestand.

Ryan Sidarto — Mustang Daily

However, through one half of play, there were no more smiles.

The Mustangs put forth a second-half performance filled with turnovers and contested shot attempts to fall to UC Irvine 65-53 Saturday night in Mott Gym. Dropped passes and missed opportunities pretty much summed up the story of head coach Joe Callero and Cal Poly’s night.

“It was a stressful and aggressive game,” Callero said. “It was a choppy game with traps. It wasn’t a beautiful game and we never do play beautiful games, I am quite aware of that, but we don’t throw the ball around quite that much. Give them credit.”

The Mustangs coughed up a total of 15 turnovers in the game, while also giving up 13 steals. Guard Shawn Lewis was one of the biggest culprits. He led the Mustangs with six turnovers.

“It took air out of us,” Lewis said. “It took the momentum away every time we turned the ball over. They would score or get an And-1, and it just brought down our morale bit by bit.”

It showed early, as the Mustangs struggled to get their offense rolling. The trend isn’t new. The Mustangs rank 343rd in the country, averaging 54.9 points per game and 339th in the country with a 36 percent field goal percentage.

And in the first half, the box score told the same story.

The Mustangs sank just six field goals in the period. They shot 26 percent from the field and 11 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.

“I think it was a lot of hesitation, second guessing,” guard Chris O’Brien said. “We just never got into a flow early. We never got the ball inside and attacked them. We just kept moving the ball around hoping for a good look, rather than making the good look for ourselves.”

O’Brien was injected into the lineup to provide the Mustangs with an offensive spark, Callero said. O’Brien missed the last three games due to an injury and hasn’t been able to help the Mustangs on the floor since. He racked up 22 minutes in his first game back.

Still, not even the shot in the arm O’Brien was expected to bring was enough to turn around Cal Poly’s woes in the second half.

After forward Eric Wise got a shooter’s bounce on a 3-point shot as time expired in the first half, UC Irvine took a 28-21 lead into the break. They had the same kind of luck in the second half as well, firing off an 11-0 run to go up 28-24 with 14 minutes left in the game.

The Mustangs tried to answer, but Cal Poly could only get as close as seven points en route to its first loss of 2011.

“We didn’t come out with enough intensity to sustain a lead and they just jumped on it,” Lewis said. “They smelled blood and just kept going after it. We need to play at a high intensity to stay at the top of the (Big West), and we just came out soft tonight.”

Lewis scored 12 points and Hanson scored 10 against UC Irvine and together combined to shoot 27 percent on the night. Their struggles offensively paved the way for other scorers to emerge. Center Will Donahue took the reigns as the leading scorer and contributed 14 points with nine rebounds.

It was the first time all season a player named Hanson or Lewis hasn’t led the team in scoring.

“David Hanson and Shawn Lewis have been our go-to scorers,” Callero said. “We need those guys to play real well for our offense to be cooking.”

The loss marks the first loss the Mustangs have surrendered since their conference-opening blemish to Long Beach State. Since the loss to the 49ers, the Mustangs took down the likes of Cal State Fullerton, Pacific and UC Davis.

Now, that winning streak comes to an end.

The Mustangs are still on pace to match the program-best 5-2 start Callero strung together in conference play last year. They will just have to get past UC Riverside next Thursday, and then Cal State Northridge next Saturday.

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