When Maliik Love was recruited to Cal Poly as a combo guard last year from The Bishop’s School in Oceanside, he knew he’d likely need to wait his turn as a redshirt before seeing any college action.
But when guards Kyle Odister and Amaurys Fermin were lost for the year to injury, Love was thrust into the starting lineup as a true freshman.
It hasn’t taken him long to figure out the college game.
Love scored nine straight points in a crucial first-half stretch as the Cal Poly men’s basketball team held off a furious rally from Loyola Marymount to win 55-48 Wednesday at Mott Gym.
“Coach pointed out that I had a smaller guy on me,” Love said of his nine-point run. “He put me in the post and we got a lot of action out of that and also in the transition, I just sprinted out and we got a lot of points off that.”
Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero was quick to praise Love’s ability to score from different positions as he showed during the run.
“Those nine points came at a critical time,” Callero said. “We got different types of baskets. We got transition baskets, we got post-up baskets and he even took a nice perimeter shot. It’s critical for us to have that kind of contribution.”
The Mustangs (2-2) jumped ahead on Love’s run, taking an 11-point lead late in the first half.
But the defense, and particularly Love’s, was what Callero was pleased about after the game after the Mustangs held Loyola Marymount to just 30 percent shooting for the game.
“Maliik Love has learned a lot about college defense and he doesn’t lunge as much and go for the steals,” Callero said. “His help-side defense is also improved.”
Shawn Lewis led all scorers with 11 points, but Lewis and David Hanson, the traditional leaders of the offense struggled throughout the night with their shots.
The duo finished a combined 5-of-21 shooting but were picked up by the perimeter shooting of Drake U’u and Chris O’Brien.U’u and O’Brien scored 10 points apiece, hitting several crucial shots to stop Loyola Marymount surges.
“It feels great,” U’u said. “I’ve been in a little funk lately so it was good to go out there and contribute off the bench and give them a little spurt.”
Cal Poly appeared on the verge of putting Loyola Marymount (2-4) away midway through the second half after Will Donahue converted a 3-point play to give the Mustangs a 45-29 lead with 6:27 remaining.
But the Lions chipped away with full-court defense. At one point, Loyola Marymount scored four points in a six-second stretch, forcing two turnovers off inbound plays.
With the score 49-47 and 48.7 seconds to go, the Lions appeared on the verge of completing a big comeback.
But Hanson rebounded a missed shot, was fouled and hit both free throws. The Lions never got within a possession again.
“They did a good job speeding us up with their full-court pressure,” U’u said. “I think we handled it pretty well, but we were lucky to get away with a win.”