For the second time in as many weeks, a last-second, long-range shot to cap an improbable comeback ripped a win away from the Cal Poly men’s basketball team at Mott Gym, and this time, it leaves the Mustangs heading into the Big West Conference Tournament on shaky footing.
A 3-pointer from the left corner with 0.9 seconds left in regulation by UC Irvine’s Darren Moore — the Anteaters’ fourth in the final 38 seconds — tied the score, and Cal Poly came undone in overtime to give UC Irvine the 91-84 win it needed Saturday to clinch a spot in the conference tournament.
The Anteaters’ season would have ended with a loss. Instead, they’ll get a rematch against the Mustangs in the first round of the Big West Tournament at the Anaheim Convention Center on Wednesday with plenty of momentum going their way.
The final outcome seemed unlikely with Cal Poly (11-19, 7-9 Big West) taking an eight-point lead with 48 seconds left.
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“We felt that we had the game in the bag in regulation,” said Mustangs forward Shawn Lewis, who scored a game-high 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. “It didn’t turn out that way. They hit a couple Hail Mary shots. Give them credit for that. Then they fought harder in overtime.”
UC Irvine’s Michael Hunter hit a 3 with 38 seconds left. Anteaters power forward Eric Wise sank another with 27 left.
Then Moore hit two desperation 3s in the final nine seconds to tie the score at 74.
Cal Poly made four of six free throws during that same 38-second span.
It was similar to a 70-68 loss at home to Cal State Fullerton last week where the Titans got a running jumper from 3-point range with less than a second remaining to steal the win.
Only, the four consecutive 3-pointers in the final minute one-upped that game somewhat.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in 35 years, playing and coaching,” Mustangs head coach Joe Callero said. “They didn’t miss anything in there either.
“Every one of them had hands on them. Every one of them was a difficulty of nine and every one of them was bottom. They were playing that loose, like ‘Hey, we have nothing to lose.’
“That part of it was the most painful, but the most disappointing is what we did offensively in overtime.”
UC Irvine (14-17, 6-10 Big West) pulled away with a 10-4 run in the first four minutes of the five-minute overtime period. During the run, Cal Poly was just 2 for 7 from the field, including 0 for 3 from 3-point range, and missed a free throw.
Still the Mustangs were trailing by just one with 2:06 to go when Lewis lost control of his dribble at the top of the key and fouled Moore on the ensuing layup to give the Anteaters a three-point play.
“I take complete responsibility,” Lewis said. “I feel like if we didn’t have that turnover, we could have possibly won the game.”
Moore finished with 24 points, and four other UC Irvine players joined him in double figures.
Mustangs senior Lorenzo Keeler had 21 points in his final game at Mott Gym, and freshman guard Kyle Odister poured in 16 points, including hitting all three of his 3-point attempts. Sophomore David Hanson had 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Cal Poly has now lost seven of its past 10, and the Mustangs’ home record dropped to 6-6.
It was a stated goal of Callero’s to coach his team to a winning record at home. Although that did not happen, there were certainly steps forward from last season, when the Mustangs were 0-8 at home in conference play and were left out of the Big West Tournament.
“Of course, it’s a better record, and we like the outcome, but at the same time, winning the Big West Conference Tournament and getting to the NCAA Tournament is my personal goal,” Callero said. “We did pretty good to turn this team around, but I want to be the first one to get this team to the (NCAA) tournament, and I’m pretty sure that’s everybody’s goal.”
Cal Poly finishes all alone in sixth place in the Big West’s final regular season standings.
UC Irvine is tied with Cal State Northridge for seventh but will get the No. 7 seed in the Big West Tournament based on tiebreakers. The Mustangs and Anteaters each won a game on the other’s home floor. Now, they’ll settle the score on a neutral court.
“The scouting report will be easy,” Callero said. “Probably the most comfortable issue for us is there’s not a ton of videotape to pore over.”