FRESNO — For the first five minutes, the Cal Poly men’s basketball team looked like it was ready to take Fresno State to the wire.
The Mustangs made five field goals during the opening stretch, including two ferocious fast-break slam dunks by sophomore junior college transfer David Nwaba, and held a three-point lead on the Bulldogs.
Then the same problems that caught up to Cal Poly (0-3) in its previous two nonconference games helped take the Mustangs out of a potential upset over its CSU rival at the Save Mart Center on Wednesday night with a 63-46 loss to the Bulldogs.
“We definitely had momentum at the time,” said Nwaba, who finished with 11 points, a block and the two steals that set up the breakaway jams. “We just kind of sagged off at one point in the game. It’s a game of runs, and they happened to have their run right after that.”
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Trailing 10-7 just 4:15 into the game, Fresno State (3-1) went on a 14-3 run over the next seven minutes. Nwaba finished 5 of 7 from the field, but the rest of the Mustangs combined to shoot just 12 of 46.
After those first five baskets — layups by Jamal Johnson and Maliik Love and three driving scores by Nwaba — the Mustangs made only 12 more shots the rest of the game.
Senior forward Chris Eversley led Cal Poly with 14 points and seven rebounds, but he forced shots at times and finished 5 of 13 from the floor and 1 of 5 from 3-point range.
Senior guard Kyle Odister also had an off game, going 1 for 7 on 3s.
As a team, the Mustangs were 0 for 8 on 3-pointers in the second half.
“Those are shots we usually make,” Eversley said. “Those are shots we make in other gyms as well. It’s just a mixture of making the shots when they’re open, and there’s your shot selection. I personally had some bad shots tonight, too. So, it’s a learning experience.”
With plenty of transition from last year’s team, one that set program records for regular-season Big West Conference success, there have been costly hiccups in play during each of the first three games.
Led by a steady stable of seniors in 2012-13 now absent from the program, Cal Poly is still adjusting to newcomers such as Nwaba, fellow junior college transfer Michael Bolden and freshman Ridge Shipley. Freshman guard Taylor Sutlive also played six minutes in his debut.
In all, 12 Mustangs saw the court Wednesday as head coach Joe Callero searched for combinations that would help Cal Poly get back in the game.
Though sophomore center Brian Bennett and Johnson each had nine points, only five of the 12 players scored.
“We have not found a rotation off the bench,” Callero said. “That’s something we have to clearly work on. I hope we have it by January 4th. … Some teams will go all the way into February before you really know your team. I don’t know this team yet.”
Trailing 31-19 at the break, the Mustangs did claw back to within 40-35 after a four-point run by Bennett in the post, but Cal Poly struggled through another five-minute scoreless stretch where Fresno State went on a 9-0 run. The Mustangs never got back to within single digits.
“I just think that we have an overall letdown,” Callero sado. “And I’m not surprised by our letdown because it’s still what we do in practice. The team has not established a practice ethic that will sustain high-major-level basketball to win games.”
The Bulldogs had five players score double digits, led by Pacific transfer Allen Huddleston’s 14 points and seven rebounds off the bench. Marvelle Harris had 12 points and seven rebounds, Cezar Guerrero had 11 points, and Alex Davis and Paul Watson had 10 points apiece.
Watson added seven rebounds, and Fresno State guard Tyler Johnson had a game-high nine rebounds to go with six points.
The Bulldogs held a 45-28 advantage in rebounds, including 10 offensive boards.
“I want to give them most credit for their energy on the boards,” Callero said. “I thought the most pivotal part to the game was when they attacked the boards and got four or five extra possessions. That’s backbreaking.”