Not yet ready to peek at the conference standings for motivation, the Cal Poly men’s basketball team still came into Wednesday’s game ready for a fight.
Looking to get back into second place in the Big West Conference, Cal State Northridge should have been prepared for that same battle, but it was hard to tell in a 72-49 Mustangs victory at Mott Gym.
Cal Poly (14-11, 9-4 Big West) moved up two games in the win column over the Matadors (10-16, 7-6 Big West), UC Santa Barbara and Pacific for second place with a noncompetitive blowout that the Mustangs dominated from start to finish for their biggest point differential of the season.
Cal Poly led 12-2 less than seven minutes into the game and held a 24-point advantage at the half, erasing the taste of an 80-65 loss last month at the Matadome that turned ugly after the Mustangs failed to recover from an elbow by Jamal Johnson that got tagged as an intentional foul shortly after halftime.
“We tend to feel like we beat ourselves sometimes,” said Cal Poly guard Chris O’Brien, who scored nine points and grabbed seven rebounds Wednesday, “and we knew we could learn from that game to make sure that didn’t happen, to get a jumpstart early.
“We don’t really think of it as a two-three matchup but as another game to get better. I think that kind of really overshadowed everything.”
With a victory, Cal State Northridge could have tied Cal Poly for second place and held the tiebreaker for seeding in the Big West Tournament after sweeping the Mustangs.
Instead, Cal Poly outrebounded the Matadors 49-24, including 17 offensive rebounds for an 18-3 advantage in second-chance points, and Shawn Lewis had team highs with 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Mustangs.
Lewis became the 10th Cal Poly player to score 1,200 points and moved into ninth place on the program’s all-time career scoring list. With 1,206 points, Lewis is just three shy of moving into eighth place and will likely do that in his final home game Saturday.
“I knew I had made it to 1,000, but after that, I didn’t keep track of it,” said Lewis, who will be the lone Mustangs senior in Saturday’s ESPN Bracket Buster matchup against Northern Arizona. “That’s a great goal, but we’re winning. That’s more important to me right now as well as having all of those points.”
Cal Poly has won six straight games. That’s only two games short of the program Division I record, which was set in an eight-game march to the Big West Tournament final to cap the 2006-07 season.
The Mustangs can match that mark by beating Northern Arizona and taking out conference leader Long Beach State on the road Feb. 24. If the 49ers win that game, they’ll clinch the outright regular-season conference title.
Separating the Big West showdown is the nonconference game against the Lumberjacks in a matchup of two of the nation’s best in a certain specialization.
Northern Arizona leads the country in 3-point percentage (43.9). Cal Poly ranks first in 3-point percentage defense (26.5).
Wednesday was another trademark defensive effort by the Mustangs. Cal State Northridge made just 3 of 16 from 3-point range and shot 28 percent overall from the floor.
The Mustangs improved to 6-0 this season when holding an opponent under 50 points.
Cal Poly also pushed its streak of producing an even-or-better assist-to-turnover ratio to nine straight games and started the game 19 of 20 from the free-throw line.
David Hanson had 10 points and seven rebounds, Will Donahue added eight points and six rebounds and Drake U’u came off the bench to score nine.
But the biggest difference was on the boards.
Cal State Northridge started the game 1 for 8 from the field, and the Mustangs made it a priority to block out and grab rebounds.
“That’s one thing that we drew up in practice all week, just be more physical than they are,” Lewis said. “So, me and (Donahue) and Dave, everybody really, just went out there and got those second-chance points.”
Hanson and Donahue each had three offensive rebounds, and O’Brien, Lewis and Maliik Love, who had five points and three assists, grabbed two apiece. The Matadors were limited to just seven offensive rebounds.
“For us, we’re not a super-quick team,” Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero said. “So, we have got to be a physical team. We have to have position. We have to have our bodies in between their bodies. If it comes down to a jumping competition or their quickness and athleticism, we’re going to lose that like we did last time.”