While Chris Eversley stared down UC Riverside’s Phil Martin dribbling close to the 3-point line, his eyes found the clock at the back of the gym.
With the Mustangs clinging to a two-point lead with 30 seconds left in the game, one thing crossed Eversley’s mind.
“I just flashed back to that UCSB game,” Eversley said of Johnson’s game-winning 3-pointer against Cal Poly earlier this season. “I just knew I couldn’t let it happen again because I know how we felt last time. And I knew one game wouldn’t kill the season, but when you lose on a buzzer beater, it’s just that much more heartbreaking.”
So Eversley stepped up as Martin pulled up for a potential game-winning 3-pointer, and the shot found nothing but air as the Mustangs ended their recent losing streak with a 54-52 win over UC Riverside on Thursday in Mott Gym.
“I saw them flatten out, I just started begging for (Eversley) to come up on him and make him a driver,” Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero said. “He kind of looked and looked, and then became more and more aggressive on the ball.
“We made it very difficult for him to get a great look, thank goodness.”
The win comes after the Mustangs (14-11, 5-6 Big West) posted a 1-3 record on their past four-game road trip. But as Cal Poly dropped consecutive games to Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Bakersfield last week, the Mustangs knew what would make things better.
Some good old home cooking.
“There’s no place like home,” Eversley said. “It was great to be back, seeing all the green and the band. I think we have the best fans in America, I think they’re behind us 100 percent, and it just felt good to be back.”
In the first half, though, the Mustangs’ struggles looked like they would continue. Cal Poly came out of the gate flat, missing its first three shots to fall in a quick 4-0 hole. A few possessions later, Martin hit a reverse layup to make it 6-2, before Dylan Royer answered with a 3-pointer for Cal Poly.
Kevin Bradshaw made it a 12-5 UC Riverside (11-13, 5-6) lead off a jumper with 11:46 left in the half, but the Mustangs went on a 10-2 run to pull ahead 15-14 on a layup from Will Taylor.
Cal Poly would get ahead as much as three points in the first half, making it 19-16 off another layup by Taylor, but UC Riverside closed within 21-20 at the break.
“We just had to keep rebounding,” Taylor said. “Keep being physical. They’re a big physical team and they wouldn’t let down and we would let down.”
The Mustangs didn’t, jumping out to a six-point lead off another layup from Taylor. They then expanded the lead to 14 points when Eversley made it 42-28 off a jumper with 10:28 left in the game.
But UC Riverside starting chipping away, outscoring the Mustangs 22-10 over the next eight minutes. That brought the Highlanders within 54-50 with two minutes left before Martin tipped in a bucket to make it a one possession lead.
But Eversley stepped up as the clock expired, giving Cal Poly its first win since rallying to defeat UC Davis two weeks ago.
“We’ve just been taking pride in our defense,” Taylor said, “grinding teams out like we used to. It’s not going to be pretty anymore, and we’re not going to score a lot of points, but were going to try and get a win.”
Eversley finished with 11 points and a career-high 14 rebounds for first double-double in a Mustangs uniform. Taylor finished with a team-high 13 points and nine rebounds.