Cal Poly men’s basketball players David Hanson and Shawn Lewis had a missed connection on an earlier inbounds play.
Looking to lob it to Lewis from under the basket, Hanson threw the ball too low and UC Riverside knocked it away to turn the turnover into a transition score. It was one of the plays that kept the Highlanders close at Mott Gym on Thursday night.
But when the game was on the line, Hanson made sure to throw it a lot higher, and with his leaping ability, Lewis was able to seal a 67-65 win for the Mustangs (7-10, 4-2 Big West Conference).
“He can jump out of the gym, 40-plus vertical,” Hanson said. “So, I threw it up, and I knew he was going to go get it. He made a great play to attack and the guy just hacked him. It was just great.”
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With just 5.2 seconds left, Hanson avoided a 5-second call by lofting the ball up to Lewis from the sideline. The 6-foot-5 swingman out-jumped his defender and pulled up for a 3-pointer.
“I wanted to just jump up and get the ball and drive to the basket,” Lewis said, “but I kind of fumbled it a little bit, brought it back, went up for the 3 ball and he fouled me.”
Lewis was hit on the arm by Highlanders star Kyle Austin with 1.9 seconds left and sank two of three free throws to break the tie. Will Taylor knocked away UC Riverside’s inbound pass to prevent a desperation shot by the Highlanders (7-11, 1-5 Big West), and Cal Poly came away with a notable victory.
The Mustangs’ seven overall wins ties the team’s total from a season ago, when it went winless at home in the Big West. The fourth conference victory is one more than Cal Poly had all of last season, and the conference season is not yet halfway over.
The Mustangs are 4-2 at home this season and are now tied with UC Santa Barbara (9-7, 4-2 Big West) for second place in the conference after being picked to finish last in the preseason poll.
Cal Poly was still without starting center Will Donahue, who’s missed the past seven games because of an academic issue. Callero said Donahue could still return this season and expects to have final word within the next week.
Key down the stretch were Hanson’s 15 points, Lewis’ team-high 16 and UC Riverside’s problems at the free-throw line.
Austin, who had a game-high 17 points and was scoring 20 points per game in conference play coming in, missed six of 10 free throws, including one that could have given the Highlanders the lead in the final 22 seconds.
“That was the loudest I’ve heard Mott,” Hanson said, “and when Austin was shooting those free throws, it was definitely an advantage.”
UC Riverside, the sixth worst free-throw shooting team in Division I, was just 56 percent from the line. Cal Poly sank 78.3 percent, including 8 for 11 from Lewis — who made a distinct effort to drive the lane late in the game.
Callero has been trying to get Lewis to value his ability to create shots for other players all season.
“We believe Shawn can hit the 3,” Callero said, “but we need a guy who can create space for other people. We’ve been trying to get Shawn to realize that’s one of his strengths. It’s not that we’re saying you can’t shoot he ball, but we need you to drive the ball.”
Hanson continued the hot streak he’s been on since the start of conference play. Coming into the game averaging 7.8 points this season, the sophomore is scoring close to 13 points per game in Big West contests.
Teammates named Hanson a captain going into the season, and he was in the starting lineup on opening night. But only recently has Hanson been backing those decisions up with production on the court.
The difference, he said, is a confidence he’s built up over the year.
“In the first nonconference games, I just wasn’t aggressive, and coaches have really worked with me being confident,” Hanson said. “I think it’s night and day.”