Cal Poly men’s basketball team once again fell victim to UC Santa Barbara’s late-game heroics inside the Thunderdome, as the Mustangs dropped their sixth straight game on their rival’s home floor, an 83-81 double-overtime decision on Saturday afternoon.
With 12 seconds to go in the second overtime period, UC Santa Barbara’s Kyle Boswell converted a three-point play after getting fouled by junior Cal Poly guard Jamal Johnson to give the Gauchos the final advantage and send Cal Poly (7-9, 3-3 Big West) to its third-straight conference loss. Junior forward Chris Eversley took a final desperation shot with three ticks left for the Mustangs, but found only iron to catalyze an eruption from the Santa Barbara faithful.
“When you’re on the road you don’t have the same feeling as when you’re at home, so you’ve got to buckle down twice as much, but congratulations to them,” Eversley said. “They made some runs and were able to close it out toward the end of the game.”
Inside a raucous arena, the emotion of another rivalry game between the Mustangs and Gauchos (7-10, 3-3) boiled over when both teams’ coaches got into a shouting match along the sidelines over a shot clock malfunction in the first overtime period.
While the incident was well short of a melee, it signified the back-and-forth nature of the product on the floor.
“Coaches are competitive too,” Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero said. “(UC Santa Barbara) coach Williams was sticking up for his guys and I’m sitting there saying to the referees, ‘We got to get this thing straightened away because we’re getting negatively affected.’”
Cal Poly’s missed opportunities late in the game might have fueled Callero’s frustration.
The Mustangs were in control for much of the second half and had a chance to end the game in regulation, but Johnson’s runner as time expired rimmed out. Johnson, Cal Poly’s leader in assist-to-turnover ratio, coughed up the ball with two seconds to go on the Mustangs’ final possession in the first overtime as well.
Meanwhile, Morgan made the best of his first career start Saturday, as he put up 26 points, the most of any Cal Poly player since David Hanson scored 28 in 2010.
“It was a very bitter (loss), I wouldn’t even say it was bittersweet,” Morgan said. “I like to play well, obviously, as any player does, but a win is so much more important.”
The Mustangs hit ten 3-pointers on Saturday, including seven from Morgan.
The Mustangs led at halftime 32-27 with the help of Eversley’s 14 points and nine rebounds heading into the locker room. He finished with his fifth double-double of the season (16 points, 15 rebounds — a career-high).
Freshman forward Joel Awich got his first significant amount of collegiate playing time in the game due to freshman bigmen Brian Bennett and Zach Gordon’s early foul trouble. They were tasked with defending the Gauchos center Alan Williams who entered the game leading the Big West in rebounds (10.3 per game) and was third overall in scoring (18.1 per game). But an injury to his left knee in the first half neutralized the threat for the Cal Poly defense.
Awich fouled Boswell on a 3-point shot attempt with 1:18 left in the second overtime and the UC Santa Barbara guard sunk the three ensuing free throws to put the Gauchos up by one. Cal Poly regained the lead when senior guard Drake U’u converted a layup on the Mustang’s next possession, but Boswell’s three-point play with 12 seconds left iced the game.
While it’s considered a rivalry by many, the Gauchos have dominated the matchup since 2007, particularly in Isla Vista. Cal Poly has defeated UC Santa Barbara just once since then and hasn’t won inside the Thunderdome dating back to January 20, 2007.
The Mustangs nearly turned those fortunes around on Saturday.
“What’s unfortunate is that we’ve had two road games this season (in which we had an opportunity to win) and those are the ones that you really need to poach to try and get one or two buzzer beater road victories,” Callero said of each of the two Big West games that his team has lost by two points.
The Mustangs will look to stop their three-game skid when they take on Hawaii next Thursday in Mott Gym.