One foot planted. The other slid out. With bigger Long Beach State bodies leaning on him, it looked like Reese Morgan’s tortured left knee might be headed for another torquing.
Instead, the Cal Poly redshirt freshman guard held strong under the basket while doing the splits, pivoted and flipped up a shot that kissed the backboard and leaked into the hoop like pancake batter.
The field goal, Morgan’s first of the game, gave the Mustangs men’s basketball team a four-point second-half lead over the visiting 49ers, one they’d soon stretch to double digits in a 79-73 victory Thursday night.
“It was nice,” Morgan said. “It was two points we needed.
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“I mostly made free throws up to that point in the game. My shot hadn’t fallen too well, so it’s always nice to see the ball get going into the hoop.”
The victory gave Cal Poly its first winning streak of the season and broke a six-game losing streak to the two-time defending regular-season Big West Conference champions. The inside score by the 6-foot-2 guard displayed a hardiness that few expected when the high-scoring Parade All-America high school player signed with the Mustangs (6-6, 2-0 Big West) two years ago.
His expected debut last season was canceled by a knee injury and an unexpected offseason knee surgery had him hobbling into this season. Now Morgan appears to be at full strength.
“This is the first time Central Coast fans really got to see what we got when we signed a kid two years ago,” Mustangs head coach Joe Callero said. “The Reese Morgan kid’s pretty good. And we’ve got him for four more years.”
Morgan scored a career-high 16 points, but it was the little things that stood out more than his point total.
Morgan grabbed four rebounds, went 9 for 10 from the free-throw line and snuck a crucial steal late to help clinch the rare victory over Long Beach State (5-8, 1-1 Big West).
He also baited the 49ers into a few frustrating fouls, something Morgan’s face gave away as a guilty pleasure.
“I do enjoy doing that,” Morgan said. “I don’t mind getting under people’s skin a little bit. I like to play physical. I don’t mind getting in there with the big boys and being a little feisty.”
Dylan Royer scored a team-high 17 points, including five 3-pointers, Kyle Odister tied a career high with four from beyond the arc and had 12 points, and freshman center Brian Bennett added 11 points for Cal Poly.
Chris Eversley had nine points and a team-high eight rebounds, and Mustangs point guard Jamal Johnson had a career-high eight assists and just two turnovers.
The 49ers countered with 22 points by senior forward James Ennis, and 16 points and 10 rebounds from Arizona State transfer Keala King, active in just his second game for Long Beach State. Mike Caffey added 13 points for the 49ers.
Though Long Beach State hasn’t had much success through a tough nonconference schedule, the 49ers were still the preseason pick to win the Big West title again. That hype mattered little to the Mustangs.
“We didn’t really view this game as an upset though,” said Royer, a former Morro Bay High standout and Tribune county player of the year. “We viewed it more as a game you should win. We’re really confident at home.
“We knew it was going to be a dogfight, but we thought we could win and we were prepared.”
Early on, it looked like Cal Poly would succumb to Long Beach State’s superior size and athleticism. The 49ers held an early lead in offensive rebounds and second-chance points and were looking to put the Mustangs away in the first half.
Cal Poly opened the game in a full-court trapping defense that pushed the pace and saw Long Beach State take a 12-10 lead less than 4 minutes into the game, but the scoring slowed tremendously after that spurt, especially for the Mustangs.
Cal Poly scored just one basket over the next 6 ½ minutes, and the 49ers grew their lead to seven points midway through the half and looked on their way to cruising when they again pushed it to seven with 7:57 left.
But helped by two 3-pointers by Royer and another by Odister, Cal Poly ended the half on a 17-9 run to lead by two at the break.
By the end of the game, the Mustangs held an 18-14 advantage in offensive boards, despite starting combo guard Kyle Odister at the small forward position, the junior’s first start since his freshman season, and playing without a center for portions of the game.
Cal Poly got its first 10-point lead at 72-62 on a layup by Eversley with 4:06 left and maintained a double-digit advantage until the 1:21 mark.
And when the 49ers needed rebounds late, they just couldn’t find them, a Cal Poly adjustment that proved decisive.
“At halftime, we talked about how this game will come down to the offensive and defensive rebounding,” Callero said.
“Go get the ball. Don’t just block off, also react to go get it. If they call a foul on a loose ball, so be it. We have to go get possession. It was heartbreaking those first 5 to 10 minutes because they just outjumped us.”