From the very beginning, it seemed like something just wasn’t right.
Everyone wearing green and white in Mott Gym just got off to an awkward start in the Cal Poly men’s basketball team’s 65-53 loss Saturday against Big West Conference foe UC Irvine.
A cheerleader fell during a stunt. The dance team’s music malfunctioned. And fans couldn’t seem to find the net during in-game promotions.
The ball Shawn Lewis was playing with looked more slippery than everyone else’s, and the Mustangs senior turned it over four times in the first half.
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David Hanson started the game 1-for-9 shooting for Cal Poly, and the Mustangs’ win-ugly strategy — for the first time in the past four games — was just regular ugly.
Cal Poly (7-9, 3-2 Big West) committed 15 turnovers, struggled to handle the pressure of the Anteaters’ half-court trap and full-court press and shot a season-low 16 percent from 3-point range in a loss that snapped their first three-game winning streak of the season.
“They just came out and jumped on us early,” said Lewis, who bounced back to score 12 points and tie a career high with four blocks. “We didn’t come out with enough intensity to sustain a lead, and they just jumped on it. They smelled that blood and they just kept going after it. We need to play at a high intensity to stay at the top of the league.
“We just got to go home tonight and just think about it. We have to come out hard next time. We don’t want to have this feeling at all.”
The Mustangs went 1-1 on the Big West homestand and go into road games next week against UC Riverside and Cal State Northridge tied for second in the conference standings. A win would have kept them alone in second behind Long Beach State.
Junior center Will Donahue scored a team-high 14 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field and grabbed nine rebounds for Cal Poly. It was the first game all season the Mustangs weren’t led in scoring by Lewis or Hanson, who finished 4 of 16 with 10 points and a season-high 14 rebounds.
Cal Poly got what it wanted defensively, holding UC Irvine (8-10, 2-3 Big West) to just 27.6 percent shooting from the field and 27.3 percent from 3-point range.
Already one of the best in the country in scoring defense and 3-point percentage defense, the Mustangs again held an opponent under its season scoring average. The Anteaters came in leading the Big West with more than 72 points per game.
“We did our job tonight defensively,” Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero said.
“The basic fundamental portion of the game is passing, and catching on offense, and we didn’t really do that.”
Callero credited the defensive switches of UC Irvine for flustering the Mustangs into mistakes. Though the Anteaters failed to convert any fast-break baskets — a key to Cal Poly’s slow-down efforts — they won the battle over dictating tempo.
Darren Moore had 25 points for UC Irvine, including a perfect 11 for 11 on free throws, and Eric Wise had 13 points and 12 rebounds. Mike Wilder scored 11 for the Anteaters.
Despite Moore’s big night, the Mustangs’ problem was on offense.
With a 12-5 run in the final seven minutes of the first half, UC Irvine pulled away for a 28-21 lead at the break.
Donahue started the second-half with a three-point play that cut the lead to five, but four more turnovers in the next four minutes allowed the Anteaters to grow the lead to 14. The Mustangs never got close than seven the rest of the way.
In all, 13 of the Cal Poly’s 15 turnovers went down as steals for UC Irvine, which converted 15 points off those steals.
“It was a lot of hesitation, second guessing,” said sophomore guard Chris O’Brien, who returned to score five points in 22 minutes after missing the past three games with a sprained ankle. “We just never got into the flow offensively.
“There’s a difference between open shots and rhythm shots. There were some open shots tonight, but they just weren’t falling down. I think we need to get more rhythm shots like drive and kicks and attacking and just being aggressive and confident.”