Going blow-for-blow with Long Beach State, the Cal Poly men’s basketball team found itself ahead of the undefeated 49ers by nine points with less than 17 minutes left in the game.
If the Mustangs could just hold on for the remainder of the half, the upset would be heard around the conference loud and clear.But then, Casper Ware happened.
Despite a first half where the Mustangs shot 76.2 percent from the field, and 71.4 percent from behind the 3-point line, the senior guard led a strong second-half effort to propel the 49ers to a 78-69 victory over the Mustangs on Thursday night in a Big West Conference game in Mott Gym.
“Hats off to Casper Ware, he had a good game,” Cal Poly guard Amaurys Fermin said. “Just shot the lights out.”
Ware, the reigning Big West Player of the Year, scored a game-high 30 points, going 9 of 12 from the floor and 5 of 6 from behind the 3-point arc. It is the most points Cal Poly has allowed an individual player to score all year, beating out a 23-point performance from Mississippi Valley State’s Paul Crosby.
In the first half, though, the Mustangs were able to hold Ware to just eight points, using a collective defensive effort.
“I thought the changes we made in the lineup — moving in parts, moving out parts — were really all predicated on defense,” Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero said. “We tried to keep somebody on Casper Ware fresh and aggressive throughout the first half.”
“I thought it worked exceptionally well, and I thought that because we got some stops defensively, we kinda got hot.”
Indeed they did.
The Mustangs couldn’t miss in the first half, shooting 16 of 21 from the floor, and 5 for 7 from behind the 3-point line. It was apparent from the get-go, as Fermin hit two 3-pointers in the first five minutes to give the Mustangs a 12-6 lead.
The Mustangs then extended that lead to 11 points with 8:12 left in the half on a jumper by Will Taylor.
Cal Poly would get out to as much as a 12-point lead with just under seven minutes left in the half, when Fermin hit his third 3-pointer of the half, shooting a perfect 3 for 3.
“We knew we were going to drop. We couldn’t sustain that offensively. What we didn’t want them to do is to go on fire,” Callero said. “We had to make sure they didn’t shoot the ball that well.”
But the 49ers did, scoring 46 points in the final 20 minutes to tie UNLV for the most second-half points an opponent has scored on Cal Poly all year while shooting 73.6 percent from the floor.
“You just don’t have a chance if you can’t defend,” Callero said. “You just don’t win games when a team goes 8 for 11 from the 3-point line and shoots 59 percent in the game.”
The Mustangs had four players score in double-figures. Taylor led with a team-high 16 points, while David Hanson scored 12. Fermin posted 11, and Chris Eversley finished with 10.
None of those players, however, could stop Ware and Larry Anderson. The two combined for 50 points, giving the Mustangs (11-8, 2-4 Big West) their fourth conference loss of the season. It’s hardly the start the Mustangs were hoping for after one of the best nonconference starts in program history, but Cal Poly still has 12 games remaining to make a up for it, including a matchup against Cal State Northridge on Saturday in Mott Gym at 5 p.m.