ANAHEIM — In a way, returning to the Big West Tournament at Honda Center is like a homecoming for Dylan Royer.
In the facility’s first year hosting the tournament in 2011, it was the birthplace of the Cal Poly shooting guard’s college career, where he went from anonymous role player to feared weapon.
As a redshirt sophomore, the Los Osos product and Tribune County prep player of the year hadn’t played much since walking on out of Morro Bay High.
A first-round overtime loss to UC Riverside where Royer was 5 of 6 from the floor, including four 3-pointers and 14 points, bisects his career perfectly into two halves — the time before Highlanders coach Jim Wooldridge knew how to pronounce his name and everything since.
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“That was probably the biggest shift in confidence for me out of my whole career was that game, just because of what that game meant,” said Royer, who went on to finish fifth in the country in 3-point shooting percentage the following season and is second on the team with 9.9 points per game this year. “It’s one thing to have a good game in preseason or the first round of conference where the stakes aren’t as high, but all of a sudden you’re playing in an elimination game.
“To play well in that elimination game in my redshirt sophomore year was huge for me. It definitely carried through my confidence for the rest of my career.”
Now a senior, Royer and the third-seeded Mustangs (17-12) are back in elimination mode, scheduled to face off with No. 6 UC Davis (14-16) at 2:30 p.m. on Fox Sports Prime Ticket in today’s opening round of the Big West Tournament.
Playing a team that heavily relies on its outside shooting, how quickly Royer and the other Cal Poly shooters can get comfortable in the professional arena, home to the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks, can make a huge impact.
If Mustangs head coach Joe Callero has learned anything in his three previous trips to the Big West Tournament, it’s that the first team to find its offense usually wins.
“First halves have a tendency to be a brick fest,” Callero said. “Nobody shoots well in the first half.
“The first team to really get a rhythm into the game can end up controlling the tempo if you can hold that.”
Cal Poly expects to have its full complement of outside threats. In addition to Royer, Reese Morgan (knee) and Kyle Odister (foot) will have no restrictions after Callero chose to rest both as much as possible toward the end of the regular season.
And leading scorer Chris Eversley looks to be completely healed from the lower leg injury he suffered the last time these two teams met.
Eversley sat out for two weeks after a high ankle/tendon strain near the end of the first half of Cal Poly’s 68-53 victory over the Aggies on Feb. 9.
Since then, Eversley has come back to average 20.3 points per game in his past four games.
He laughed off the idea that he could harbor any ill will against UC Davis for his injury.
“Nobody on their team hurt me,” Eversley said. “I slipped on a wet spot, so it’s kind of embarrassing.”
In the same vein of embarrassment, the Mustangs had a 3-0 January conference start blemished in a buzzer-beating 69-67 loss at UC Davis where Cal Poly led 24-8 to start the game.
The Aggies are dangerous for two reasons — shooting guard Corey Hawkins, who leads the Big West in scoring with 20.9 points per game and the team’s combined 3-point shooting percentage.
Ryan Sypkens leads the nation shooting 47.1 percent from 3-point range, and only seven other players in the top five have more than his 221 attempts. The Aggies’ 41 percent overall 3-point percentage ranks fifth nationally.
Second in the Big West, Cal Poly is 38th in the nation at 38 percent, and Royer ranks 33rd at 41.5. Royer had 19 points in the first game against the Aggies and 20 in the blowout win at home win last month, including six 3-pointers and 18 points in the first half.
“That shooting guard duel is going to be big between him and Corey Hawkins,” Eversley said. “It’s just a matter of him rising to the challenge.
“A lot of people, a huge arena, that’s college basketball. You don’t see too much of that at the mid-major level, but when you do get the opportunity, it’s good to go because that’s showtime.”