Despite his team going 1 of 18 from 3-point range in the game’s first 39 minutes and 57 seconds, head coach Joe Callero wanted the ball in senior 3-point specialist Dylan Royer’s hands for a final play to break a 60-60 deadlock with 2.7 seconds remaining Saturday night.
Off an inbounds pass from junior guard Jamal Johnson, Royer curled around several screens, spotted up beyond the 3-point line and drained the eventual game-winner with 0.7 seconds left in regulation to give the Cal Poly men’s basketball team a thrilling 63-60 Ramada Worldwide BracketBuster win over Loyola Marymount inside the Mott Athletics Center.
“Going into that, (Royer) was 1 for 6 from the 3-point line,” Callero said. “If you believe in your shooters then you actually feel more confident. You think, ‘Well heck, he’s gonna make the next one because the odds are with you with a great shooter like that.’”
A 39.5 percent shooter from downtown this season and the team’s leading scorer from beyond the arc, Royer struggled from his favored spot on the court throughout the night missing 5 of 6 long balls, including one with just five seconds left in the game.
But after a missed putback by freshman center Brian Bennett, Loyola Marymount knocked the ensuing rebound out of bounds to give Royer one last opportunity to hit the dagger.
“Everyone as a little kid counts down in their driveway with their friends — five, four, three, (two, one) — imagining that shot,” Royer said. “But this year, I probably haven’t imagined it at all because I’m just trying to think about the next play. But guys threw great screens, coach drew up a great play and I’m just happy it went in.”
Royer’s shot helped extend the Mustangs’ home winning streak to 10 games and also marked the 12th straight loss suffered by the visiting Lions (8-18).
The Mustangs (13-12) trailed virtually the entire night, only seeing the lead after freshman guard Reese Morgan hit two free throws with 12:29 to go in the game. The advantage was short-lived though as Loyola Marymount came right back with a 3-pointer and led down the stretch until Royer broke the tie with his game-winner.
Bennett earned a career performance, notching a career-high 23 points on 9 of 11 shooting to lead all scorers in the game.
“I would say it was one of the best games (of my career) and one of the most exciting,” Bennett said. “I wouldn’t say it’s going to be the all-time, but I hope we have more games like this.”
The Mustangs started the game off sloppily as they had a difficult time matching up with the Lions’ size down low and committed four turnovers in the first 7:30 minutes of play. Cal Poly entered the game with the fewest turnovers per game in the nation, averaging just over nine per contest, but managed nine in the first half alone Saturday.
Bennett opened the scoring for Cal Poly with a jumper on its first possession which was followed by an uncharacteristic three-point play off a drive by Royer almost two minutes into the game. He had a similar play later in the first to cut the Loyola Marymount lead to 23-19.
Senior guard Taylor Walker hit a long field goal at the first-half buzzer to give Loyola Marymount its largest lead (39-32) of the game at halftime.
But the Mustangs clawed back and kept within striking distance the rest of the way. Cal Poly’s leading scorer and junior forward Chris Everlsey knocked down his first bucket of the game on the first possession of the second half. That marked his first points scored since suffering a high ankle sprain against UC Davis on Feb. 9, which kept him out of the lineup the past two games.
Down 60-57 with 1:27 left, Eversley converted a three-point play after getting fouled on a layup beneath the basket to knot the score at 60 and set up the improbable finish.
“You could almost see the rust on Chris Everlsey fall off,” Callero said of his top scorer. “He had no game reps, he was hurt two weeks ago and he had been off his feet for basically seven or eight of those days.”
Everlsey finished with 13 points in 29 minutes of play while Royer ended up with 12 for the Mustangs, who shot 47.8 percent from the field depsite an 11.1 percent figure from 3-point range.
Loyola Marymount was led by junior guard Anthony Ireland, who scored 19 points. He entered the game 12th in the nation in scoring, averaging 20.4 points per game.
The Mustangs return to Big West Conference action when they visit Cal State Northridge on Saturday.