As the Cal Poly men’s basketball team continued to discover its offensive game with a group of four new starters, one thing became clear Thursday night.
The Mustangs’ offense looks a lot better when junior Chris Eversley is efficient and aggressive, just the way he was in a 64-53 victory over Northern Colorado (1-1).
“What I liked most about that game of his was the balance of 10 field-goal attempts and three 3-pointers,” Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero said. “We want him to be able to take 3s, but we want him to be the beast inside, and the last thing I said to him at practice was double-double. I don’t want anything else. Double-double. He’s got to look at that as hey, ‘I’ve got to get a double-double.’ ”
Eversley scored 21 points, the first 20-point game for the Mustangs (1-1) in more than a year, to go with 10 rebounds, Dylan Royer scored 13 including two 3-pointers and Jamal Johnson dished out a career-high seven assists as Callero won a home opener for the third time in four seasons.
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His third career double-double was a jump in production from Eversley’s first game, an eight-point effort where he was 4 of 15 from the floor and 0 for 4 on 3-pointers in a 53-46 loss at TCU last week.
On Thursday, Eversley capped an 11-2 Cal Poly run to start the game with a tip dunk on a missed layup by Royer in transition.
The slam gave Eversley six of the first 11 points, and the Mustangs led by nine with 14:08 left in the first half.
Eversley finished 6 of 10 from the floor and 1 for 3 on 3s while going 8 of 14 from the free-throw line.
After Cal Poly went a full season without a 20-point scorer last year, Eversley’s effort was the first since David Hanson had 25 in a 75-70 victory at Cal State Fullerton on Feb. 26, 2001, a streak of 36 straight games.
“My team is confident in me,” Eversley said, “and they tell me keep shooting and the shots will fall. I tell Dylan the same thing. Kyle (Odister), Reese (Morgan), all the shooters, if you know how to score the ball, you know how to score the ball.”
The early lead was short-lived. After Royer, who was 3 for 8 from 3-point range and 4 for 4 from the free-throw line, hit a 3-pointer to make it 7-2, Cal Poly went cold from long range.
The Mustangs finished the first half just 1 for 11 on 3-pointers. Eversley, Johnson, Morgan and Odister combined to go 0 for 7 in the first half as Northern Colorado led 22-21. As a team, Cal Poly shot 25.8 percent from the floor in the first half.
“First-game jitters at home, that could be part of it,” Royer said, “and the way I look at it is law of averages. Sometimes you’re going to miss some; sometimes you’re going to make some. That’s the way it is. That’s what I tell guys and try to encourage them. If you’re a shooter and you miss shots, don’t worry about it keep shooting. That’s what you’re in there for, and eventually it’s going to go down.”
Eversley, Chris O’Brien and Royer hit three straight 3-pointers to open the second half. After Eversley’s 3 made it 24-23 just 58 seconds into the half, Cal Poly never trailed again — though the Mustangs didn’t put the game away until Royer hit a deep 3-pointer from the top of the key with 2:02 left to provide the first double-digit lead for either team.
O’Brien finished with nine points, including 6 of 6 from the free-throw line, true freshman center Brian Bennett followed up his double-double at TCU with eight points and seven rebounds and Drake U’u had five points and five rebounds.
Johnson went just 1 for 10 from the floor but his assist total helped Cal Poly rack up a 12 to 5 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Tevin Svihovec was the only Northern Colorado player in double figures with 14 points. And while the Mustangs were taking care of the ball, the Bears turned it over 14 times.
Northern Colorado also sent Cal Poly to the free-throw line for 30 shots. Though six of those attempts came during a desperation surge in the final minute, the Mustangs were also intent on getting to the foul line.
The Bears shot just 6 of 13 from the free-throw line. Cal Poly made 22 free throws. And it was a situation borne from the Mustangs’ first-half struggles shooting from the outside.
“With the shots not falling,” Eversley said, “the only thing you can do as an offensive set is just get to the basket, try to get some free throws down and move the ball around. So attacking the basket, keeping the pressure on the rim was definitely big for us in the second half.”