Jordan Lewis had attempted only nine 3-pointers all season prior to the Cal Poly men’s basketball team’s 58-54 win over Cal State Fullerton at Mott Gym on Thursday night.
But that statistic says nothing of the immeasurable time spent by the Mustangs in practice simulating a draining shot clock while honing their identity as a slow-down, defense-oriented team.
Cal Poly (7-8, 3-1 Big West Conference) drills its defenders every day on increasing their pressure when the shot clock gets below nine seconds. It’s one of their keys to being one of the best statistical defenses in the nation.
As the Mustangs found out in the final minutes against the visiting Titans (6-11, 2-3 Big West), who had a four-game win streak in San Luis Obispo snapped with the loss, the under-nine drill also helps its offense.
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“In practice, we go through situations where there’s a low shot clock, late-game situations,” said Lewis, who had made only three in-game 3s this season, “and when it comes to it, you have to be ready to catch and shoot.”
Lewis had a season-high nine points, including a clutch 3-pointer with 35 seconds left as the shot clock wound down, and teammate David Hanson had two 3s of his own in the final minutes as Cal Poly won its third straight low-scoring conference game.
“It was lucky, you know,” Lewis said of his high-arching shot, “but we practice those situations for when the time comes.”
Hanson scored a game-high 25 points, Shawn Lewis pitched in with nine points and had a career-high six assists, and Jordan Lewis also had a key steal and breakaway dunk in the first five minutes of the second half to help the Mustangs erase a 10-point halftime deficit.
Hanson was 5 of 10 from 3-point range. He banked in a 3-pointer from deep on the right wing with the shot clock down to six seconds that gave Cal Poly a 52-50 lead with 2:02 left.
Cal State Fullerton’s Andre Hardy responded with a three-point play to retake the lead, but Hanson hit a more conventional 3 from the left sideline on the next possession, and Jordan Lewis’ shot essentially put the game away.
“I came out, and I made the first 3 in the second half, and I think that was big for me, to see the ball go through the hoop,” Hanson said. “And it felt good after that every time I touched it.”
It was only the second time the Mustangs, who remain alone in second place in the Big West standings going into Saturday’s home matchup with UC Irvine, have come back to win while losing at halftime.
The only other occasion this season came after trailing Hawaii by two points at the break and winning on a disputed buzzer-beater. While the victory broke one trend, it continued another.
Cal Poly has seen opponents shoot less than 40 percent in six of the past seven games. Long Beach State, 5-0 in the Big West with a stranglehold on first place, was the lone exception.
The Mustangs also improved upon their scoring defense (57.9 points per game), a mark that already ranks 11th nationally.
Cal Poly ranked third in the country in 3-point percentage defense (25.6) and improved upon that number by forcing Cal State Fullerton into just 2-for-18 shooting from 3-point range.
The Mustangs were coming off consecutive games in which they allowed an average of 45.5 points in road victories at Pacific and UC Davis.
Part of the credit to the low numbers are attributed to head coach Joe Callero’s defensive schemes, but some of it can also be chalked up to the offensive philosophy.
Cal Poly has become disciplined and deliberate in its attempt to avoid quick shots. The Mustangs only rarely run the break, just when guaranteed points are in sight.
That’s gotten the entire team to become more composed and comfortable in the waning moments of either clock on the court.
“Because of our style of play, both defensively and offensively, we have spent an extraordinary amount of time with the shot clock and executing,” Callero said, “playing with nine seconds and under, getting an internal clock and recognizing when you’ve got to make one extra pass.”
Cal Poly 75, Cal State Fullerton 72
Center Abby Bloetscher reminded her team what it had been missing recently.
Bloetscher, who was suspended for the Mustangs the past two games because of an unspecified rules violation, scored a career-high 29 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to fuel Cal Poly in a Big West Conference game.
It marked the third straight win in a row for the Mustangs (8-7, 4-0), who have also gone 5-2 in their past seven games overall.
The Mustangs’ 4-0 start in Big West play is the program’s second ever, matching that of the 2007-08 squad.
Along with Bloetscher’s performance, two other players scored in double figures. Rachel Clancy had 16 points and fellow guard Tamara Wells added 10.
For Cal State Fullerton (5-12, 1-4), Megan Richardson scored a game-high 33 points.
After shooting 40 percent from the floor in the first half, the Mustangs found themselves trailing 43-32 at halftime. Cal Poly then upped its shooting percentage to 50 percent in the second half to outscore the Titans 43-29 after the break.
Still, it wasn’t until well into the second half Cal Poly would take the lead. Clancy hit a jumper to put the Mustangs up 60-58 with 5:44 left in the game, and they wouldn’t look back.
— Tribune staff contributed to this report