Mott Gym: Where first-half leads don’t really mean anything.
At least, that’s been the case for the Cal Poly men’s basketball team so far this season.
In its first two home games this year, Cal Poly erased deficits of 16 and 19 points in come-from-behind wins over Seattle and Pepperdine.
On Monday night, the Mustangs opened their nonconference game against Montana State on a 9-0 run in the first four minutes. The Bobcats didn’t go away, though, keeping within nine the rest of the way and rallying for a 76-72 win.
“It’s not a good feeling going into Christmas at all,” Mustangs guard Shawn Lewis said. “We really wanted this game to try to keep our undefeated record at home.
“We came out in the first half and executed well. We did exactly what we needed to do to get the lead. In the second half, we got a little too comfortable, and down the stretch we didn’t execute at all.”
Cal Poly (3-7) will now take five days off before returning to practice Dec. 27.
“I don’t think there’s one phase of the game that really shines out that we’re lacking,” Mustangs head coach Joe Callero said.
“The most important thing for us is consistency. I think what we saw tonight was a team that’s getting closer to being a good, consistent team.”
The Mustangs, who played in front of a season-best home crowd of 2,032, gave up a 15-5 run over the game’s final five minutes.
“The last five minutes, we kind of let our guards down, and they dictated to us what they wanted to do,” Cal Poly center Will Donahue said.
Cal Poly had a chance to tie the contest, trailing 75-72 with 35 seconds to play, but Lorenzo Keeler missed back-to-back 3-point tries, and Erik Rush sank a free throw with 4.7 seconds remaining to make it a two-possession game and provide the final score.
“We kind of got shocked by their pressure,” Lewis said of the comeback. “I think if we would’ve executed and just kept with our plays, we would’ve gotten better shots than we did.”
Donahue finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds, both of which were career highs. The 6-foot-8, 265-pound sophomore, who entered the game shooting only 54.3 percent from the free-throw line, made 7 of 8 from the charity stripe.
The Bobcats (7-4) were behind just 35-33 at halftime, largely thanks to 5-of-12 shooting from 3-point range.
“The previous (home) games, we were sluggish the first five to 10 minutes and then turned it on and got the momentum,” Callero said. “Tonight, we were really good for 35 minutes but failed to maintain our poise.”
Lewis finished with 16 points. Marquis Navarre led Montana State with 18, while Branden Johnson added 16.
Cal Poly, which held a 38-28 rebounding edge, has one more game before Big West Conference play begins Jan. 4, a Dec. 31 date at Cal State Bakersfield.
The Big West, which widely relied heavily on freshmen a year ago, has shown considerable improvement as a whole this season, with only three teams entering the week with losing records. Two Big West squads, preseason favorite Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton, have even collected wins against UCLA.
“We need to be a bit more polished, run our plays and learn our defenses a little bit more,” Lewis added. “We need to learn how to keep a lead as well as how to get a lead. There are a lot of good teams out there in our conference now.”