The script felt all too familiar.
The one-possession lead with under a minute left. The packed, sellout crowd in a crammed Mott Gym. Everything was in place for a classic installment in the Blue-Green Rivalry.
But just like it had the year before, the game tilted in favor of UC Santa Barbara in the final minute. Big West Player of the Year candidate Orlando Johnson hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with five seconds left in the game, handing the Cal Poly men’s basketball team a 58-57 loss on Monday night.
Trailing by two with 18 seconds left in the game, Johnson grabbed a pass in the right corner of the court. He gave a fake, and then let loose a 3-pointer for the ages. It bounced off the right side of the rim, bounced off the left and then rolled its way around through the hoop with just enough momentum to send Cal Poly home with its heads down.
“If that thing was coming off, I would have grabbed it,” Cal Poly center Will Taylor said. “I thought it was it coming right there to me and then it went in, and I was just like, ‘wow.’ It felt like watching a cartoon, I guess.”
The Mustangs (9-5, 0-1 Big West) got the ball back with five seconds left, but forward David Hanson couldn’t sink a turnaround jumper just inside the 3-point line as time expired.
Cal Poly had all the momentum prior to Johnson’s shot. Trailing by as much as 13 points with 15:19 left in the second half, the Mustangs chipped away at the Gauchos lead with big contributions from Taylor and Amaurys Fermin — on both sides of the court.
“We said if we can sustain defense and let our offense catch up there, we think it will come down to a last-minute game,” coach Joe Callero said. “And that’s really what happened. It comes down to Orlando Johnson playing like an MVP.”
To start the first half, the Mustangs came out right on point. They raced out to a 9-2 lead off a 3-pointer from Fermin before the Gauchos answered back with a 3-pointer of their own and a couple of field goals. Trailing 13-9, Johnson nailed a deep 3-pointer from the right wing to pull the Gauchos within one, and freshman forward Alan Williams then hit a layup to go ahead 14-13 with 9:48 left in the first half.
Hanson followed with a turnaround jumper to put the Mustangs up by one on their next possession, but the Gauchos dropped in the next few buckets to race ahead and eventually take a 29-22 lead going into the half.
Taylor finished with a team-high 17 points and 11 rebounds, his fourth double-double of the year. Fermin scored 11 to go with two assists and a steal.
The two, however, couldn’t stop Johnson, who had 12 points, three assists and four rebounds.
“We knew UCSB was going to be a tough matchup. We were right there,” Fermin said. “He’s a good player. We played well with him and we made him take tough shots, but he got that last one right there at the end.”