It had been a while since the Cal Poly men’s basketball team had let down the crowd in a close one at Mott Gym.
Mustangs fans might have even forgotten what it had felt like to see their team come up short in a nail-biter.
Similarly, Cal Poly seems to have lost a hold on what was spurring them to all those close wins.
“We were feeling too good,” junior forward Will Taylor said, “and we forgot how it felt to be down, and I think it got to our heads.”
In their second straight subpar shooting performance, the Mustangs took a 57-53 loss to Cal State Bakersfield on Saturday, Cal Poly’s first loss in a home game decided by fewer than five points since a Dec. 21 loss to Montana State.
The Mustangs led for only 23 seconds the entire game but were within striking distance. Cal Poly trailed by two with 1:50 left before the Roadrunners pulled away at the free-throw line.
Since that loss to Montana State, the Mustangs (8-12) had gone 3-1 at home and 5-2 in Big West Conference play prior to a blowout loss at UC Santa Barbara earlier in the week. They were the surprise story in the Big West: A last-place team with no preseason expectations that was suddenly competing for a conference title.
But since they set up that showdown with the Gauchos that put the winning team all alone in second place in the conference standings, the Mustangs have suffered their first losing streak in more than a month.
“We’ve never been in this position as playing as the favorite,” Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero said, “playing as we’re supposed to win versus lets upset somebody, being a little looser because we’re the underdogs.”
Against the Roadrunners (4-16) on Saturday, Cal Poly looked tight and shot poorly in every aspect. The Mustangs were just 30.6 percent from the field, 12.5 percent from 3-point range and 50 percent from the free-throw line.
It was Cal Poly’s worst showing from 3-point range all season. The Mustangs hadn’t shot under 20 percent on 3-pointers since Dec. 5. All this follows a 23-point loss at UC Santa Barbara where they shot just 35.4 percent from the field, 26.1 percent on 3s.
Cal Poly outrebounded Cal State Bakersfield 50-34, including 25-5 on the offensive glass, but the Roadrunners beat the Mustangs where it counts, sinking 19 of 23 free throws and 38.3 percent of their field goals.
Cal State Bakersfield had won just one of its past six games following a 70-63 win over Cal Poly on Dec. 31, and now half of the Roadrunners’ wins have come against the Mustangs.
“I think we just came in thinking about their record and thinking we were just going to win,” said Taylor, whose 12 points and career-high 12 rebounds gave him his first double-double since Cal Poly’s previous loss to Cal State Bakersfield. “We can’t play like that. We have to play every game as if it’s Santa Barbara or (UC) Davis. We have to come out like that and just play tough as heck.”
David Hanson scored a team-high 17 points and grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds, eight offensive. Yet, Hanson missed 10 shots, which uncharacteristically included a couple of open 3-pointers.
Cal Poly’s starting backcourt of Lorenzo Keeler and Justin Brown were held to just 3-of-8 shooting from the field, and the duo was 0 for 2 from the free-throw line.
To prove the shooting woes went teamwide, Shawn Lewis scored eight points but also missed 10 shots.
All four of those players had been playing well as of late and were keys to Cal Poly’s five January wins. Brown had just retaken the starting point guard spot from Kyle Odister.
Now the team plays a crucial stretch where five of the next six come on the road.
“You just gotta get in the gym and when we go in and shoot, we don’t just do shoot-around and mess around,” Hanson said. “We have to be focused, work on shooting game-type shots and kind of refocus.”