Senior Ridge Shipley scored 17 points to lead four Cal Poly players in double figures and the Mustangs rallied to a 76-70 victory against CSUN in a Big West Conference matchup Thursday night at Mott Athletics Center.
Cal Poly won its third consecutive game for the first time since November, improving to 11-18 overall and 6-9 in the Big West heading into Saturday’s regular season finale against rival UC Santa Barbara.
Sophomore point guard Donovan Fields was the main catalyst in the Mustangs’ second-half surge, and he finished with 16 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals.
“The coaching staff is putting us all in the best positions to be successful, and guys have accepted their roles,” said Fields, who reached double-digit scoring for the team-leading 19th time this season. “I feel like right now we’re really getting into our groove.”
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The New York native seemed to shift into another gear in the second half, helping Cal Poly pull away from a struggling CSUN team that lost its fourth straight game. Fields scored 14 of his 16 points after the break and dazzled the home crowd with his play at both ends of the court.
During one stretch, Fields stole the ball in transition, faked out a defender with an eye-popping hesitation move and finished a left-handed layup at the other end. Moments later, Fields threw an alley-oop to Hank Hollingsworth for a dunk and drew an offensive foul on defense during the ensuing possession.
Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero was quick to credit Shipley’s veteran presence as an important factor in Fields’ progression this season.
“Ridge is the steak of the team,” Callero said. “Donovan’s the dessert. He’s tasty. He’s got flavor and he’s fun to watch. People like dessert.”
Cal Poly fell into a 10-point hole early in the first half, but rallied back with a 21-8 run and went into the break leading 30-28. Despite a significant size disadvantage, the Mustangs held a 40-32 rebounding edge, including 11 on the offensive end.
Cal Poly’s starting guards contributed to the rebounding effort in a big way.
Shipley added six rebounds and four assists to his 17 points, and junior Victor Joseph finished with 12 points and six rebounds. Junior forward Luke Meikle contributed 12 points and four rebounds, and senior forward Zach Gordon had eight points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 24 minutes off the bench.
“I feel like recently we’ve come together more as a team, and we’re more goal-oriented,” Gordon said. “We’re all on the same page. We’re all focused.”
Kendall Smith scored a game-high 19 points to go with six rebounds and six assists to lead the fifth-place Matadors (11-17, 7-8 Big West). Darin Johnson added 15 and Tavrion Dawson finished with 14 points and six rebounds for CSUN.
The Mustangs will be back in action when they host last-place UC Santa Barbara in the final game of the regular season at 7 p.m. Saturday. Cal Poly lost the first meeting between the two teams, 58-53, back on Jan. 14.
“I know it’s going to be a great atmosphere,” Fields said, “so I’m really looking forward to that game.”