SANTA BARBARA — Right before the moment of truth, Chris Eversley broke the huddle and shouldered up to Reese Morgan for one last word.
With that truth determining a win or a loss for the Cal Poly men’s basketball team against rival UC Santa Barbara in the Gauchos’ Thunderdome on Saturday, the final play of the second overtime was drawn up for Morgan, the redshirt freshman who already had a career-high 26 points.
Eversley’s one-on-one message coming out of a timeout with three seconds left was simple: If you’re covered, look for open teammates before hoisting an ugly shot.
As it turned out, Eversley was the open man. Morgan found him, and about 12 feet out on the short corner, Cal Poly’s leading scorer on the season watched his potential game-tying jumper rattle out as time expired, and he curled up in disgust at the 83-81 defeat — the latest in a seven-game string of losses in Santa Barbara by the Mustangs (7-9, 3-3 Big West Conference).
“I just thought ‘I’m going to catch it and make it,’ ” said Eversley, who averages a team-high 15.4 points per game. “I thought I was going to make that shot like I thought I was going to make every other shot I took tonight. That’s a shot I’ve made thousands of times before, so I’m not going to really trip about it, but it was a great look and a great pass by Reese, too.”
The final miss ended a game highlighted by the kind of drama seemingly reserved solely for these raging Blue-Green battles.
A shot-clock snafu led to a center-stage shouting match between the head coaches. A ringing alarm inexplicably sounded uninterrupted for minutes, prompting a visit from the fire department. UC Santa Barbara (7-10, 3-3 Big West) lost its best player to a hamstring injury before halftime. And players made no shortage of weighty shots in a pressure cooker sealed with 3,314 screaming spectators inside.
The argument between Cal Poly’s Joe Callero and UC Santa Barbara’s Bob Williams — which was broken up after each took steps from the bench to meet near the center of the floor — might have been the most striking moment of the game, which was broadcast live regionally on Fox Sports Prime Ticket.
The incident started when referees took four seconds off the clock on a Cal Poly possession that was interrupted because of a mistake by the shot-clock operator less than a minute into the second overtime and the score still tied.
An inbound play was blown dead right before Eversley sank a wide-open jumper at the elbow because the shot clock hadn’t started. When play resumed, the points did not count, and the Mustangs’ time remaining on the shot clock was cut by officials from six seconds to two.
“We get the ball back with four seconds gone and without the basket and with a shorter shot clock to get a shot,” Callero said.
“Why do we get penalized because of the mechanical or human error?”
Callero appeared to furiously shout at the scorer’s table multiple times, and on the next trip down the floor, Williams heard enough and charged Callero as the two shouted back and forth.
“Voicing being upset one time was good,” said Williams, who said he agreed Callero should be upset for losing four seconds. “Continuing to voice it at that guy and screaming at him. Those people are basically volunteers working that table. They don’t make a living. They’re not professionals. They’re doing the best they can. I lost my cool. I apologized to Joe afterwards. I felt like I had to defend the guy.”
Said Callero: “He was sticking up for his guys and I’m sitting there saying to the referees we have to get this thing straightened away because we’re being negatively affected.
“It could have been our place, and I probably would have done the same thing” as Williams.
This all in a rivalry that saw the end of a game in last year’s Big West Tournament marred by a controversial intentional foul and has a collection of other player altercations to its credit over the past decade.
Kyle Boswell, who scored a team-high 23 points for the Gauchos, went on to convert the game-winning three-point play on a drive to the hoop and a foul by Cal Poly point guard Jamal Johnson.
Taran Brown added 15 points for the Gauchos, including a 3-pointer with 40 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime and another 3 to start the first overtime. Nate Garth scored 13 points for UC Santa Barbara, and Michael Bryson and Mitch Brewe finished with 10 points apiece after leading scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker Alan Williams left with 6:05 left in the first half and did not return after hurting his hamstring.
Brian Bennett and Dylan Royer scored nine points apiece for the Mustangs, who missed out on opportunities to win the game in regulation and in the first overtime.
Johnson saw a driving pull-up jumper in the lane ring around the hoop and out as time expired in the second half.
With two seconds left in the first overtime, Johnson threw a pass to freshman Joel Awich that went out of bounds as Awich turned to set a screen for a teammate, but Garth missed a 3-pointer that could have won it.
After starting out 3-0 in the Big West, including a victory over front-runner Long Beach State at home, Cal Poly has to rebound for next week’s return to Mott Gym and two home games against Hawaii and Cal State Northridge.
But not before another stinging bus ride home.
“It will be a lingering effect,” Eversley said. “I’m not going to say it’s going to linger forever.
“It will probably feel bad tonight, but when you wake up in the morning, all you can do is just get into the gym and work on the shot and work on the skills that got you here.”