There was a time Thursday when not even a wide-open Chris Eversley dunk would go down.
The Cal Poly men’s basketball team dug a huge hole with a 0-for-11 streak from the field in the first half and didn’t have enough Mott magic to come all the way back in a 67-59 loss at home to Cal State Fullerton.
Eversley had team highs with 19 points and four assists, grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds and had two blocks and two steals, but the senior forward was unable to prevent the Mustangs (9-16, 5-7 Big West Conference) from losing their fourth straight at Mott Athletics Center.
The defeat continued a downward slide that began after a 3-0 conference start that included victories over Big West powers UC Santa Barbara and Hawaii and extended a conference home winning streak to 16 games.
Included in the recent tailspin are losses to UC Riverside, UC Davis and the Titans (9-16, 4-7 Big West) — all teams that entered the week in the bottom three spots in the conference. Two of those were in San Luis Obispo.
Now, Cal Poly is only two games ahead of the Highlanders for last place in the conference with four games to go, and the team that ends the season in the cellar will be left out of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim next month.
The Mustangs have lost five of six and appear to still be searching for stability in their rotation, but Eversley remained defiant of the recent trends.
“Until we lose the final game of the season,” Eversley said, “until I’ve played my last game in this jersey, the sky’s not falling.”
The score was tied at 14 with 12:48 left in the first half, and Cal Poly was 6 of 9 from the floor before the Mustangs went cold.
Cal Poly missed the next 11 shots from the field, turned the ball over four times in a stretch lasting more than eight minutes, and Cal State Fullerton used a 16-6 run to take a double-digit lead.
Eversley’s missed jam was the ninth straight shot to rim out. Kyle Odister finally broke the streak with a deep two-pointer that made it 30-20 with 4:58 left before the break.
The Mustangs also started the game 0 for 8 from 3-point range and finished 2 for 15.
“Those aren’t mental errors,” Eversley said of the collective misses. “Those are shots that you missed. You can live with physical errors as a player and as a coach. You’re going to miss dunks. But it’s the mental plays that we try to focus on not breaking down.”
The Titans led 39-24 at the half. The 15-point deficit was the largest Cal Poly has faced all season. The Mustangs trailed by 14 midway through an 82-72 loss at Delaware in the final tuneup before conference play in the first week of January.
With a methodical second-half comeback effort, Cal Poly trimmed the Cal State Fullerton lead to five twice, including at 49-44 with 9:33 left, but the Mustangs would get no closer.
David Nwaba was the only other Mustangs player in double figures. The sophomore forward had 13 points and six rebounds.
Michael Williams led Cal State Fullerton with 23 points and seven rebounds. Alex Harris had 13, including three 3-pointers, and Steve McLellan added 10 points. Marquis Horne had a game-high four blocks and six rebounds.
Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero continued to tweak his rotation. The Mustangs have had five different starting lineups in the past eight games, and the bench rotation continues to evolve as well.
Sophomore forward Zach Gordon started his first game since the season opener, and junior Michael Bolden has worked his way back into the lineup after starting the season as a regular before finding himself on the outside looking in.
Bolden played 24 minutes, scoring five points and grabbing two offensive rebounds. After playing in the first 11 games of the season, Bolden sat out for nine of the next 12.
He’s received solid playing time in each of the past two games, and his re-emergence is just one sign that Cal Poly is still struggling to find consistency with its roster.
Twelve players played Thursday night.
“Were definitely still tinkering, and we definitely need to continue to tinker,” Callero said, “because with the team that we have this year, we have strengths on one side that maybe aren’t strengths on the other side. Guys that can shoot it maybe aren’t our best defenders, and maybe our best defenders aren’t our best shooters, but one thing everyone can do is play their heart out, game plan and be ready.
“The intensity in that first half is unacceptable.”