After a season where Cal Poly men’s basketball was one of the best defensive teams in the country and one of the least explosive offensively, the Mustangs are vowing to bring more scoring to Mott Gym.
They made good in Saturday’s open intrasquad scrimmage, where players and the head coach said that a newfound depth will compensate for a lack of height.
In two 20-minute halves, a team led by leading returning scorer David Hanson and big man Will Taylor, who redshirted last season, outgunned a team led by former transfers Amaurys Fermin and Chris Eversley, 80-66.
The up-and-down pace was a visual departure from last season, when the Mustangs won four games where they held opponents to 41 points or less.
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Frustrating opponents with head coach Joe Callero’s matchup zone, Cal Poly finished the year ranked third among Division I programs in opponent 3-point percentage (28.7), sixth in opponent scoring (58.9 points per game) and 25th in defensive field-goal percentage (40.0).
A slow-down offense helped boost those numbers and also made the Mustangs one of the lowest-scoring teams themselves.
“We’ve got more guys that can score,” said Hanson, who averaged 15.2 points last season. “We’ve got more offensive threats, and I think you’ll see that translate into the games as well as carry over our very strong defense from last year.”
Hanson, a senior, had 14 points, junior forward Drake U’u scored a game-high 23 points for the winning team and Taylor had 20 points and nine rebounds. And with Cal Poly’s depth, either U’u, Taylor or both could be coming off the bench.
Eversley had the game’s only double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds, and Fermin, a point guard who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, scored 22 points.
Junior guard Dylan Royer and freshman guard Reese Morgan, who shadowed each other for most of the game, hit three 3-pointers apiece and each finished with 11 points.
Callero was encouraged by the scoring output in a realistic game with officials.
It created more cause for celebration than a four-game tour of Costa Rica over the summer.
“You have to see it on the scoreboard,” Callero said. “To say you’re going to be more aggressive and you’re going to be a higher-scoring team is great, but you have to do it against another team, like ourselves, that does defend, is taking it seriously, and put some points on the board. That’s the most important and best thing we saw.”
The competition for playing time is wide open this early in training camp.
Hanson, Will Donahue, Maliik Love and Chris O’Brien — who missed the scrimmage and will be out at least two-to-four weeks after suffering a separated shoulder lifting weights — are all returning starters.
Hanson is likely to start. Donahue is being pushed by Taylor for playing time at center, and the other two could find themselves coming off the bench as an influx of new players is trying to get on the court.
In addition to Fermin and Eversley, who each sat out last season, guard Kyle Odister is returning after missing all of last season with an ankle injury.
Morgan is Cal Poly’s first Parade All-American and is likely to receive minutes right away. Former walk-on Jordan Lewis was rewarded with a scholarship in the offseason. Sophomore point guard Jamal Johnson is pushing Fermin. And if Royer, a former Morro Bay High standout and Tribune County Player of the Year, continues to shoot with confidence, it will be hard to keep him off the floor.
An apparent short-coming is a lack of height. At 6-foot-9, Donahue is the Mustangs’ biggest player. Taylor checks in at 6-7, Eversley at 6-6, and Hanson is an undersized, if effective, post player at 6-5.
Those numbers fit right in with the Big West Conference, but Cal Poly will face major tests in a nonconference schedule that includes mid- and high-major teams USC, UNLV and Saint Mary’s.
The Mustangs will also play a home-and-home against San Jose State and travel to DePaul.
“As for being a ‘small’ team, I think as long as we outwork them and out-smart them, then we’ll be fine,” Taylor said. “Those big guys, they’re big, but they’re not as quick as us, and if they are as quick as us, then they’re going to be skinny, so they’re not as strong as Donahue and I. So, what we lack in height, we match up in strength and quickness.”