Local TV viewers, the season-high 2,922 in attendance and Cal Poly men’s basketball coach Joe Callero himself could have hardly asked for a better game.
Mustangs senior Shawn Lewis brought the house down with a 3-pointer with just 5.6 seconds left in the televised showcase between Cal Poly and rival UC Santa Barbara on Thursday at Mott Gym.
Except it wasn’t enough.
“After the shot went in, I didn’t really think of the clock until coach said there’s five seconds left and we need a stop,” Lewis said.
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Orlando Johnson scored a game-high 24 points, and James Nunnally hit a running bank shot at the buzzer to give the Gauchos a 71-70 win over Cal Poly, negating a season-high 13 3-pointers by the Mustangs and knocking them out of second place in the Big West Conference standings.
Lewis scored 20 points, and David Hanson added 20 points and nine rebounds for Cal Poly (8-11, 4-4 Big West), which came into the game shooting just 28.7 percent from 3-point range.
As a team, the Mustangs shot 13 of 26 on 3-pointers, a season-high 50 percent. Hanson and Lewis were each 4 for 7. Chris O’Brien was 3 for 6, and former Morro Bay High standout Dylan Royer came off the bench to hit another in his first action since mid-December.
“It was real big,” Lewis said. “Just making that 3, sparking the crowd up, it sparked us up. Threes definitely kept us in the game, and it was part of the game plan.
“We’re not the biggest team in the Big West, so we have to use our shooting ability, just driving it and kicking it to the open man.”
UC Santa Barbara (11-7, 4-3 Big West) was able to erase a six-point deficit with 7:28 remaining after Will Donahue, who had seven points and a game-high 11 rebounds, put Cal Poly ahead 61-55 with a pair of free throws.
Johnson scored nine of his points in the final 6:54 as he began to punish the Mustangs off the dribble. Ten of his points came from the free-throw line, the result of his strong left-hand drives to the basket.
Lewis’ final 3-pointer came while scrambling to an open spot at the top of the key after a handoff from Chris O’Brien, and even though it gave the Gauchos enough time to get the victory, it was exactly what Callero wanted.
“Our big concern was making sure you get the shot up with five seconds,” Callero said, “so that if it hits the rim and Shawn’s shot didn’t go in, we have the chance for an offensive rebound possibility.”
Cal Poly won the rebound battle 31-28, including 12 offensive rebounds. They boxed out well enough on 7-foot-2 Gauchos center Greg Somogyi to keep him without a rebound in 10 minutes, and they even limited Nunnally (18.2 points per game) to just 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting.
But Justin Joyner made the difference for UC Santa Barbara, scoring 12 points, including a 4-of-4 start from the field.
“Justin was the real key,” Callero said. “They started him for the first time this year, and he has been a little more consistent perimeter shooter for them. So, we lost another person which we could help off.”
Behind some steady shooting from Joyner and Johnson, who combined for 17 points in the first half, the Gauchos built an eight-point lead in the first half.
Johnson hit a 3-pointer from the right wing with 12:36 left to give UC Santa Barbara its biggest lead, before Hanson immediately responded with a 3 of his own.
The Mustangs fought back to tie it at 26 with 8:20 left before the break, and after UC Santa Barbara retook the lead on free throws by Johnson and a layup by Nunnally, Donahue scored inside in the final minute to send the teams to the locker room with the Gauchos nursing a 36-35 lead.
The game was tight the rest of the way, just as the rest of the race in the Big West standings figures to be.
“Despite us being in second place,” Hanson said, “half or one game separated us from whoever was in seventh place. Every night is a winnable game, and it’s a huge game in this conference because anyone can beat anyone. We’ll bounce back.”
Big West basketball standings
Big West games All games
W L W L Long Beach St. 7 2 12 10
CS Northridge 4 3 7 13
UCSB 4 3 11 7
Cal Poly 4 4 8 11
CS Fullerton 4 4 8 13
Pacific 3 4 11 9
UC Irvine 3 4 10 11
UC Riverside 2 4 7 11
UC Davis 2 5 7 12
UC Santa Barbara 71, Cal Poly 70; Cal State Northridge 66, UC Irvine 62; UC Davis 82, UC Riverside 52.