After watching sophomore Chris Eversley blow by one of his players on the way to the basket Sunday, Notre Dame de Namur head coach George Puou shouted instructions. “Don’t even close out on him,” Puou said of the Cal Poly men’s basketball forward.
Translation: Eversley can’t shoot.
Mustangs head coach Joe Callero knows that Everlsey and several “newcomers” are going to play major roles for the Cal Poly men’s basketball team. But as Cal Poly witnessed in a 63-46 exhibition victory over the Argonauts, the first-year and returning players that make up that group are going to have to earn opponents’ respect.
After starting his first game in front of the Mott Gym crowd 0 for 3 from the field, Eversley proved Puou wrong by nailing a 3-pointer that capped a 17-6 run to start the second half.
The Rice transfer was one of three Mustangs players with eight points, senior center Will Donahue had 10 points and six rebounds in 16 minutes and senior forward David Hanson led all scorers with 14 as the Mustangs turned a tie score at halftime into a comfortable victory over the Division II program from the Bay Area.
Seniors Will Taylor and Amaurys Fermin, who each sat out last season, were the other players with eight points apiece, Taylor added eight rebounds, and Cal Poly used its matchup zone defense and some full-court pressure to help keep the Argonauts scoreless for the first 7 minutes of the second half.
The teams were tied 29-29 at the half after Drake U’u hit a 3-pointer with three seconds left before the break.
“That’s huge for us,” Hanson said of what ended up being a balanced scoring effort. “We’re going to need that all year, because at this level, guys are going to have an off night, and we’re going to need other guys to be able to step up and contribute like that. It was encouraging to see, and we kind of expected that.”
The Mustangs returned four starters from last season, but only one started Sunday — a testament to Callero’s confidence in the depth of the roster.
Eversley sat out last season in accordance with NCAA transfer rules. Taylor redshirted to gain more experience and ended up coming back in the best physical shape of his life. Fermin tore his ACL in the first week of training camp and missed all of last season.
That trio started the first half along with Hanson and true freshman Reese Morgan, a Parade All-American and lethal outside shooter who was just 1 for 5 from the field with four points.
Kyle Odister, a former Big West Conference All-Freshman Team honoree, is also coming back after a year off with an ankle injury.
Though the team played three exhibition games in Costa Rica over the summer and in one closed-door scrimmage against a Division I opponent, this game felt weightier, especially to the players that were knocking off a year’s worth of rust or more.
“First game, definitely had the first-game jitters,” Eversley said. “We played in Costa Rica, but it’s not the same as playing in Mott Gym with a different atmosphere, different everything, different feel through the whole day.
“I remember specifically Dylan Royer saying after the first half, (the jitters) go away. So, the second half I felt more comfortable, hitting my shots in the lay-up line.”
Royer, a former Morro Bay High standout and Tribune County Player of the Year, played eight minutes and swished his only two shots of the game, two 3-pointers that gave the junior six points.
U’u, who started the second half in place of Eversley, finished with four points and four rebounds and helped give Cal Poly some stable defensive play.
With four new starters in, it meant four players who were less familiar with Callero’s matchup zone were on the floor at the same time.
In the first half, the coach felt that some inexperienced defensive play was one of the keys to allowing Notre Dame de Namur to go into the half thinking upset.
Josh Pettit and Arron Mollet each scored 10 points for the Argonauts, and Eric Bell and Wesley White added nine apiece.
“The second-half adjustment of putting Drake back in there, it added one more guy to solidify our defensive foundation,” Callero said.
“That allowed us to build some confidence that we could get a couple buckets, and then all of a sudden, you’re playing with a 6-, 8-, 10-point lead.”