Jonae Ervin wanted the basketball in her hands with the game on the line, but before that could happen, Cal Poly women’s head coach Faith Mimnaugh wanted Ervin on the bench.
Carrying four fouls and nearing the end of the first triple-overtime game in program history, the weary junior point guard headed to the sideline with 2:15 left and Cal Poly trailing Pacific by two.
When she returned refreshed and refocused with 24 seconds remaining and the Mustangs down one, Ervin hit two clutch free throws with eight seconds left to give her team the final lead and poked the ball away twice in the final possession to prevent the Tigers from getting off a potential game-winning shot in the Mustangs’ 96-95 win Saturday at Mott Gym.
“She is tough,” Mimnaugh said. “She wants to make the decisions, and she was big-time clutch as far as making those free throws.”
Teammate Nikol Allison could not convert two free throws that would have given Cal Poly (9-6, 3-1 Big West Conference) the lead in the final 30 seconds of the first overtime. Kristina Johnson and Ashley Wakefield combined to miss four straight free throws for Pacific (12-3, 2-1 Big West) in the final 30 seconds in the third overtime.
But Ervin, who also had a driving layup in the final 18 seconds to help clinch a 73-71 victory over UC Davis on Thursday, had her confidence renewed when Mimnaugh reinserted her into the game and immediately called for her to attack the rim.
“There’s a lot of pressure,” Ervin said, “but I just had this mentality like let’s get this over with. Let’s focus. My coaches want me on the line. They trust me, and I have to make my free throws.”
Though she wasn’t credited for stealing the ball, Ervin’s quick hands knocked it loose twice, including from the grip of Wakefield with less than two seconds left to end a marathon effort that was just as notable for its rising action as it was its climax.
Three overtimes were just one striking aspect in a game that also featured a devastating injury, a career scoring high and a 20-point comeback.
Ervin finished with 11 points and six assists, Caroline Reeves had a season-high 16 points, Ariana Elegado scored 15, and Kayla Griffin — who converted a three-point play on a putback to send the game into overtime and sank two crucial free throws to force the third overtime — had a career-high 11 assists to go with eight points and 13 rebounds.
Cal Poly center Molly Schlemer led all scorers with 28 points, a mark that eclipsed her old career high of 21 set in a loss at Oklahoma State earlier this season.
The former Righetti High standout was 13 of 17 from the field and grabbed nine rebounds as Mimnaugh went almost exclusively to the 6-foot-5 center to supply the Mustangs with offense down the stretch before Schlemer fouled out with 1:04 left in the first overtime.
“They gave her plenty of straight one-on-one opportunities, and she’s hard to defend,” Mimnaugh said. “She’s skilled at finishing, and she’s a load.
Then Schlemer and Pacific counterpart Kendall Kenyon, who had 13 points and 12 rebounds, fouled out.
“I came off the court, and I was really bummed about fouling out because I wasn’t really happy about the calls,” Schlemer said, “but my coaches just said, ‘We’re still in this. You can help them from the bench.’ So I took that to heart, and I just tried to cheer. I’m a little hoarse in the voice. I screamed. I cheered as hard as I could. I just tried to keep my energy up.”
Schlemer said she was eager to prove herself against Pacific, a team that had won five straight games and was picked to finish second in the Big West preseason media poll.
Cal Poly made it look like the Mustangs had been undersold at fourth in the preseason poll with its first-half performance, using two 12-0 runs to build a 20-point lead that stood at 49-31 at the half.
It was the most points Cal Poly had scored in a half this season. The Mustangs hit six of their 10 3-point attempts, the most makes from long range against the Tigers in any full game this season, and shot 54.3 percent from the field.
Pacific cut the lead to single digits in fewer than seven minutes in the second half, scratching back to tie the score at 65 with 4:02 left in regulation.
Cal Poly’s scoring surge came despite the loss of senior forward Brittany Woodard, the Mustangs’ second-leading scorer (11.2 points per game) and rebounder (6.1).
Woodard twisted her knee awkwardly on a fast break underneath the basket with 9:53 left in the first half, and immediately cried out in pain.
After being examined on the floor, she was helped to the training room and returned before the end of the half, standing on crutches and with ice taped around her knee.
Mimnaugh said it did not appear to be an ACL tear, but Woodard will have an MRI on her knee to evaluate the damage and whether it will end her season.
“She’s a really good hustle player,” Schlemer said. “She’s one of our top rebounders, too. When she went out, it shook us up a little bit, but I just let everyone know, ‘Everyone, let’s do it for Brittney’ because I know she really wanted us to win this game.”
Big West basketball standings
Big West games All games
W L W L
Northridge 4 0 10 5
Cal Poly 3 1 9 6
Pacific 2 1 12 3
Long Beach 2 1 9 6
Hawaii 2 1 6 8
Fullerton 2 1 6 9
UCSB 2 2 6 10
UC Riverside 0 3 7 7
UC Davis 0 3 5 9
UC Irvine 0 4 4 12
Cal Poly 96, Pacific 95, 3 OT; UC Santa Barbara 58, UC Davis 43; Cal State Northridge 59, UC Irvine 48; Cal State Fullerton 54, UC Riverside 49.
Long Beach State at Hawaii.