The close games aren’t getting any easier, but Cal Poly is finding ways to win them.
With the score tied at 73 and 37 seconds left on the clock, Will Donahue dove and stole a ball at midcourt, and Jamal Johnson grabbed it and took it for a layup to give the Mustangs just enough momentum to escape with yet another close win, this time against UC Irvine 77-74 on Saturday in a Big West Conference game in Mott Gym.
“First of all I just want to say (Donahue) gave up his body, that was the best I’ve seen (Donahue) play in the two years that I’ve been here,” Cal Poly’s Chris Eversley said. “And for him to get on the floor and tip that ball to Jamal, it got me hyped.”
It was yet another win at home for Cal Poly (15-11, 6-6 Big West), which now boasts an 8-4 record in Mott Gym, as opposed to its 5-7 record on the road. It’s also the second straight win for the Mustangs after they dropped games to Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Bakersfield last week.
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“It’s a goal of ours to win as many games at home as we can to create a home-court advantage,” Drake U’u said. “Any time we are on the road, we are excited to come back to Mott Gym. The fans gave us energy tonight.”
They especially did so in the first half, as the Mustangs were on fire early from behind the 3-point arc, including a 3-pointer from Eversley with 12:47 left in the half. Amaurys Fermin later followed with a 3-pointer of his own put the Mustangs up by 19 at 36-17.
The Mustangs led by as much as 21 in the first half, off a 3-point play from Eversley, before UC Irvine clawed their way back to make it 45-32 at halftime.
UC Irvine made its run to start the second half. With the Mustangs struggling on offense, UC Irvine drew within 49-45, outscoring the Mustangs 13-4 to start the period. But Cal Poly quickly regained its poise, as Odister sank a 3-pointer from the corner to put Cal Poly ahead by 10 points with 12:32 left in the game.
“Basketball is a game of momentum swings. Especially in this conference, teams are relentless. They can go on quick runs,” U’u said. “It’s very up and down throughout the whole game, being able to deal with those emotional ups and downs and being able to stay composed through those highs and lows is very important.”
The Mustangs needed that composure after a layup from UC Irvine’s Adam Folker tied it at 73 with 1:33 left on the clock. After the two teams traded possessions, Donahue trapped Derick Flowers at midcourt, knocked the ball away, dove for the loose ball and tipped it out to Johnson, who converted the transition layup to put the Mustangs up for good.
“You don’t know who is going to win these games and we are just telling our guys that you have to stay with it,” Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero said. “Our biggest thing is just because you get a lead, it doesn’t mean you’re going to win the game. And just because you’re behind, it doesn’t mean you’re going to lose the game.
“The biggest thing is to stay emotionally stable, and have enough emotional stamina to make the plays down the stretch you need to make. That’s what I think we’ve done the last two nights, make great plays down the stretch.”
Eversley led all Cal Poly scorers with 18 points, David Hanson scored 15, and U’u had 10.