The Mustangs traded the lead with the Anteaters five times in the final seven minutes and went on to defeat UC Irvine 72-67. Cal Poly moved to 7-6 overall and 3-0 in Big West play for the first time in 16 years. Hawaii joined Cal Poly later Saturday night as the only undefeated teams left in conference action.
Eversley led the Mustangs with 24 points, one shy of his career high, while the senior O’Brien, who sat out last year with an injury, tied his career high with 16 points including two 3-pointers.
“O’Brien is naturally one of the leaders of the team and he brings something that most of our team doesn’t have, which is experience,” Eversley said. “He’s been playing basketball for a long time and he’s been playing at a high level.”
Cal Poly led 36-25 at the break after jumping out to a quick start thanks to Anteater turnovers. UC Irvine attempted to push the pace of play in the first half, but Cal Poly halted the speed with seven steals and 21 points off turnovers. Jamal Johnson had four steals in the first half, which turned into a pair of transition 3-pointers for the Mustangs.
The Anteaters, hurt by 10 first-half turnovers, while playing their signature up-tempo game got the offense in sync during the second half. They conceded just four turnovers and only two points off turnovers and often pressed the Cal Poly ball handlers in the backcourt. The Mustangs committed three turnovers in the first half, but had eight in the second half.
“Right from halftime they weren’t going away,” O’Brien said. “They’re a veteran team and they aren’t just going to roll over. They kept attacking us and applying pressure, and you have to fight pressure with pressure.”
The Mustangs played the majority of the first 20 minutes without true freshman Brian Bennett who picked up a second foul just five minutes into the game and was forced to the bench. Bennett finished the game playing only 14 minutes but put up eight points.
The Anteaters were paced by guard Chris McNealy in the first half, he had seven points to compliment center Conor Clifford who had six.
UC Irvine finished the game with three scorers in double-figures, including 16 points from forward Adam Folker.
Senior guard Dylan Royer extended his team lead in 3-pointers attempted, hitting all three of his shots on Saturday night. He’s hit 34 of 80 attempts this season (42 percent).
The Mustangs shot 48.9 percent from close range in addition to hitting 7 of 15 long balls, while the Anteaters hit 55.3 percent of their 2-pointers and 6 of 15 from beyond the arc.
The victory was Cal Poly’s fourth consecutive win over UC Irvine. The Mustangs head on a three-game road trip to UC Davis and Pacific next week then UC Santa Barbara on January 19. Cal Poly returns home to face new conference foe Hawaii on January 24.