The Cal Poly men’s basketball team got its first glimpse of what Reese Morgan could do, and now the Mustangs are back in Mott Gym for the first time since a landmark 70-68 victory over UCLA on Nov. 25.
Cal Poly (2-3) hosts NAIA Menlo College (2-7) at 7 tonight, giving the local community the first chance to see the Mustangs since they pulled off a stunning 18-point, second-half comeback to beat the Bruins for the first time in program history two weeks ago and then stumbled last weekend at St. Mary’s.
Cal Poly’s last home game was a Nov. 19 loss to Fresno State.
Perhaps the biggest positive spun out of the 86-68 loss to the Gaels was a breakout performance by Morgan, a 6-foot-2 redshirt freshman who scored a career-high nine points off the bench on 3-for-3 shooting from 3-point range.
A Parade All-America sharpshooting guard in high school, Morgan came to San Luis Obispo with more expectations than any other recruit since Joe Callero took over as head coach in 2009.
His prep numbers were staggering. Morgan scored 27.3 points and grabbed 7.3 rebounds per game his senior year at Palos Verdes Peninsula High in 2010-11, and he averaged 22.5 points over 108 varsity games.
But after redshirting all of last season with chronic knee injuries, Morgan was off to a 1-for-10 start on 3-pointers in his college career before hitting three in the first half in Moraga.
“The first games, obviously, I struggled with my shot a little bit,” Morgan said. “I felt like I was getting back into the motion a little bit. I hadn’t played in a little bit of time. It was nice that my coaches and my teammates never lost any confidence in me. They kept wanting for me to shoot. My shot felt pretty good. I figured it would fall eventually.”
Morgan said he was rushing himself, even on wide-open shots, as he tried to get accustomed to the leap in game speed from the high school to the college level.
Making it harder to find the right shooting rhythm was the fact Morgan had been on a reduced practice schedule for nearly a year as he recovered from multiple knee surgeries.
His first week practicing daily came leading up to the game against the Gaels, and it showed.
“That was big,” junior forward Chris Eversley said. “It wasn’t just big for our team because it kept us in the game in the first half, but it was big for his morale and confidence. He was out for a year, and he felt rusty. It was good for him to step up against a high-level team like St. Mary’s.”
Eversley also had a career high with 25 points against the Gaels and leads Cal Poly with 16.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
Freshman center Brian Bennett averages 9.8 points and five rebounds in his first season on campus, and senior guard Dylan Royer is scoring nine points per game.
The Mustangs appear to be settling on a nine-man rotation with Chris O’Brien and Jamal Johnson also starting and Kyle Odister, Drake U’u, Zach Gordon and Morgan coming off the bench.
With half the team turned over from a year ago, Callero has used the same starting lineup for all five games, but there are still things to be worked out before the Big West Conference opener at UC Riverside later this month.
“Our roles aren’t really set in stone yet,” Eversley |said. “I think that’s still developing. We have five games before conference. Getting that game experience for the younger guys and knocking off the rust for the older guys will start to clarify some roles, and we’ll have some more stuff set in clarity before we go to Riverside on the (Dec.) 29th.”
After playing Menlo, Cal Poly will travel to face Nevada before its final nonconference home game against NCAA Division II Eastern New Mexico (5-3) next Friday.
Then come road games against Santa Clara and Washington before the trip to UC Riverside and Big West home games against Long Beach State (Jan. 3) and UC Irvine (Jan. 5).
The victory over UCLA has been called the greatest in program history, but before it fades into memory, the Mustangs need to prove it was no fluke.
“We do need to continue winning to legitimize our strength as a good basketball team and specifically being a good basketball team in Mott Gym,” Callero said. “I really look at the home games that we have coming up as games that we’ve got to win.”