While the Cal Poly men’s basketball team was up and then down — and then way up and way down — even-keeled won the game for Nevada.
Coming back from a 11-point deficit with 15 minutes left to play at Mott Athletics Center on Tuesday, the Wolfpack leveraged 17 Mustangs turnovers and a 7 1⁄2-minute Cal Poly scoring drought to take a 60-58 victory in the final seconds.
“There were times we got too high and excited about being ahead,” Mustangs head coach Joe Callero said, “and we got too disappointed when it was a one-point game with four minutes to go.”
And when it mattered most, Nevada (1-1) got the best plays from one of its program’s all-time best.
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Senior point guard Deonte Burton, a top-10 all-time career scorer at Nevada, was fouled while making a driving layup and converted the three-point play with six seconds left to give the Wolfpack the lead.
A four-year starter with a 14.9 career scoring average making his 100th career start, Burton scored a game-high 22 points and snatched the ball from Cal Poly senior forward Chris Eversley as Eversley streaked down the court to attempt a potential game-winning shot before the buzzer.
It was one of Burton’s four steals in the game, and although he had just one assist, Burton grabbed five rebounds and shot the ball 19 times without committing a turnover.
“I’m glad we played a guy the caliber of Burton,” Callero said. “What I was most impressed with him tonight was his emotional stamina and his approach. ... He played 39 minutes without a turnover. That’s an amazing stat.”
Coming off a season in which they ranked second in the nation in fewest turnovers per game (9.4), the Mustangs (0-2) protected the ball in the first half, building a 32-23 lead at the break.
Cal Poly also started the second half strong but soon began to give the ball away and rush shots. Thirteen of its 17 turnovers came in the second half.
After Eversley hit a 3-pointer and made a three-point play on back-to-back possessions. and senior guard Kyle Odister hit a jumper, the Mustangs missed seven shots and committed seven turnovers before the scoring drought ended with a two-handed slam by sophomore center Zach Gordon.
Before the dunk, Cal Poly’s lead shrank to 44-43 with eight minutes left.
“It’s just a mental breakdown,” Odister said of the scoreless stretch. “In practice, we go through stalls, like 20 minutes of practice when everything gets disorganized and people get lazy. We need to play a whole 40 minutes.”
The biggest turnover came with 11 seconds left when Mustangs senior point guard Jamal Johnson could not get the ball in to Eversley. Trailing 58-57, Nevada knocked the ball away from Eversley, who had a team-high 19 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
As players dove to the ground, the ball was tied up, and the Wolfpack took it on the alternating possession.
This after Cal Poly had called timeout because of trouble getting the ball in on the initial inbounds play following a clutch 3-pointer by Nevada’s Michael Perez.
“The ball came in, they got a finger on it,” Eversley said “That’s something we’ve got to come up with. That’s on me. I have to come up with that ball.”
That set up Burton’s three-point play.
Odister added 11 points, including 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions to give Cal Poly a 54-53 lead with 2:08 left to play, and sophomore center Brian Bennett had eight points and four rebounds.
Perez had 13 points and a team-high six rebounds, and Cole Huff scored 14 for Nevada.
The loss snapped a 12-game home winning streak for the Mustangs. It had been the longest current streak in the Big West Conference.
This is the first 0-2 start since Callero took over the program in 2009-10. That season, Cal Poly opened the year 0-5.
The Mustangs’ next game is a Nov. 20 trip to Fresno State, and they’ll have to work on playing from ahead to seal that one. The Bulldogs beat UC Irvine on a last-second buzzer-beater to open the season.
“We got to the point where we got a lead down the stretch, we kind of let it get to us tonight,” Eversley said. “That’s something we’re definitely going to look to fix in practice.”