Hometown hero Dylan Royer set a career high for points and 3-pointers against the coach that gave him a chance to play men’s basketball at Cal Poly.
The Mustangs (12-11, 8-5 Big West Conference) broke a six-game losing streak to their archrival, handing UC Santa Barbara a lopsided 67-49 defeat on a Saturday night that they had to turn people away from the ticket booth.
Cal Poly won its third game in a row for the first time this season and all without leading scorer and rebounder Chris Eversley, too.
The big victory might be better remembered as the night Joel Awich came alive.
The 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman forward replaced Eversley in the starting lineup for his first career start and responded with a career-high six rebounds and eight points, including two crowd-pleasing dunks and a slew of blocks that had the largest Mott Gym crowd of the season going wild.
“He played like a man,” Royer said. “Joel’s not a high school kid anymore. When he got here, he definitely had some things to work on in terms of toughness mentally.
“He’s worked so hard in the weight room. He’s gotten so much stronger. It just took him a while for his mentality to catch up to his improvements physically and tonight definitely showed he’s caught up. He’s ready.”
Credited with three blocks and a steal, Awich was 4 for 8 from the field, tying a career high for points he also had against Cal State Northridge back in January — none being more thrilling than the two he got on an alley-oop dunk from Kyle Odister in the first half against the Gauchos (8-16, 4-9 Big West).
Although Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero initially indicated that senior Chris O’Brien would start if Eversley couldn’t play, Callero went to Awich after Thursday’s practice when it became clear that coming off the bench was a better fit for O’Brien.
“I was definitely nervous,” Awich said, “but I didn’t do anything different, just went day by day and worked hard in practice to show them I could actually do it.”
Eversley was there to guide Awich, giving him defensive pointers before the game. Though still out with a high ankle/tendon strain suffered in the previous Saturday’s victory over UC Davis and likely to miss Wednesday’s conference game at Cal State Fullerton, Eversley still made an impact even if he couldn’t play.
“He was a huge presence in the huddle,” Royer said. “In timeouts, before the game, during the game, it was almost like he was playing. He just wasn’t actually on the court.”
Now an assistant for UC Santa Barbara, former Cal Poly head coach Kevin Bromley recruited Royer to walk-on out of Morro Bay High in 2008.
Against Bromley’s current team, Royer was 7 of 16 from 3-point range, hitting five in the second half, and finished with a team-high 23 points. Odister, another Bromley recruit who’s three 3-pointers also came in the second half, finished with 11, and Cal Poly won its 12th straight Big West home game.
The Mustangs had an eight-point halftime lead, which the Gauchos quickly trimmed to 29-26 less than two minutes into the second half.
But Cal Poly went on an 11-2 run spurred by Royer and Odister 3-pointers to ignite the first double-digit lead.
Led by Alan Williams’ game-high 24 points and 17 rebounds, UC Santa Barbara got within 53-47 on a three-point play by the big man with 3:52 left, but Royer hit two more 3s to quickly get the lead back to 10.
Drake U’u had nine points and four assists, going 7 for 7 at the free-throw line, for Cal Poly, which totaled 16 assists to eight turnovers.
Eversley will have to go through a full practice Tuesday in order to play against the Titans, Callero said, but the coach might take an even more cautious route with next Saturday’s ESPN BracketBuster game against Loyola Marymount coming up.
“It might be more likely,” Callero said, “that we rest him all the way through the BracketBuster game and have him ready to go for the next conference game.”