With just 18 seconds left, you had to read lips to understand Will Taylor’s patented rally roar.
The season-high 2,741 screaming fans at Mott Gym made it that tough on Cal State Northridge free-throw shooter Raymond Cody on Saturday, drowning in decibels the Cal Poly big man’s familiar “Let’s Go!” shout — and everything else, too.
After Cody missed both shots, preserving a 73-72 lead for the Mustangs men’s basketball team, the rebound had to have volleyed off the hands of all 10 players on the court on a meandering route that took it dangerously close to falling through the Matadors hoop.
“I touched the ball like three times,” Cal Poly senior guard Lorenzo Keeler said. “I felt like it was in my hands and somebody pulled it away. Those last couple seconds, I felt like I was going to have a heart attack.”
The exchange was so drawn out, it sapped all but 2.2 seconds off the clock, and when the ball finally did settle with someone, it was in the hands of Mustangs forward David Hanson.
“The ball was just going everywhere, and I fell down,” said Hanson, who scored 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting. “I was just trying to follow the ball. I figured it was going to get tipped because it got tipped about 10 times. So, I got back up quick, and I was able to grab it.”
Neither team scored again, and Cal Poly (8-10, 5-2 Big West Conference) came away with its second straight last-second win at home, reversing a trend from last season, when the Mustangs could not seem to get it done down the stretch.
Despite a game-high and career-best 24-point night from Mark Hill — who hit his first four 3-pointers — his final desperation half-court shot hit too high off the glass, and defending conference champion Cal State Northridge fell to 7-12 overall and 2-4 in the Big West Conference.
Cal Poly remained tied for second place in the Big West with UC Santa Barbara, who came away with an 85-80 overtime win over Cal State Fullerton. The Mustangs and the Gauchos cap the first half of conference play with a showdown in Santa Barbara on Thursday.
Cal Poly is in the midst of quite a swing. The Mustangs were picked to finish last in the conference a year after they went winless at home in the Big West and were the only team left out of the conference tournament.
Had some of those close games gone differently last season, the above might not have been the case.
“It’s a toughness that we’re having at the end of the game this year,” said Keeler, who scored a team-high 23 points. “Last year, to be honest, we weren’t as hungry. For whatever reason, I don’t think everybody was hungry enough to finish out those games. And this year, coach is in us in the huddle, everybody’s amped, everybody wants to do their part to win these close ones.
“Fortunately, we’ve been pulling them out.”
Cal Poly was 2-6 last season in games decided by five points or fewer. This season, their record in those games at Mott is 3-1. Overall, the Mustangs are 5-2 at home, and the fans are flocking following the wins.
Cal Poly’s gym was more than 90 percent full, a figure that led to the maintenance staff saying there was more trash being removed from the stands than they could remember.
Players did remember that the end of Saturday’s game on the court was strikingly similar to the Mustangs’ loss to Seattle at home last season.
In that game, the final shot bounced off several players, too, and coach Joe Callero again came away with the victory.
The only difference was that Callero was on the Seattle sideline then.
Asked why the luck seems to be on his side, the first-year Cal Poly coach is positive that it is all about the positive thinking he has been preaching.
To keep his players from freezing up in nervous situations, his philosophy is to visualize success.
“I think it’s trying to get guys to believe what can happen in the positive,” Callero said, “not what possibly happens if it doesn’t happen.
“Your body follows your mind. If you see yourself having success, it seems like your body does it.”