Chris Eversley said there wasn’t a competition. David Nwaba agreed.
The two Cal Poly men’s basketball forwards aren’t keeping tabs on who leads the team in dunks this season.
“I’m pretty sure I’m in the lead,” Nwaba said, “but it’s not really that big of a deal to me. We just look for those momentum plays.”
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Nwaba and Eversley pounded home two dunks apiece and tied for the game high with 17 points each to open Big West Conference play with an emphatic 77-65 victory over Hawaii on Thursday night at Mott Athletics Center.
Eversley also grabbed nine rebounds and handed out six assists. Nwaba was
8 for 12 from the floor to improve field-goal percentage numbers that already ranked him in the top 20 in the nation entering the game.
A putback jam by Nwaba that pushed the Mustangs’ lead back to 15 points with 7:11 left was particularly nasty and was the kind of emotional play that helped stave off any kind of comeback attempt from the Warriors (11-4), who entered conference play with the best record of any Big West team.
“The tip dunk tonight was pretty nasty,” Eversley said. “So, I gotta give him that one. That’s definitely my guy. He’s a great addition to our team. He’s a great energy guy and defensively just being active.”
Nwaba had a dunk off a steal late in the first half and followed that up with a 17-foot jump shot to give Cal Poly (5-9) its biggest lead of the game at 38-20 with 5:01 left before the break.
He’d hit another outside shot by the end of the game, proving the sophomore junior college standout who still has yet to attempt a 3-pointer for Cal Poly can be a threat from the outside.
“Teams are doing a great job of scouting,” Nwaba said. “So, I know I have to extend my game a little bit. I just try to get the best shot on the floor. If it’s open, it’s open.”
Nwaba wasn’t the only Mustangs player with a hot hand. Cal Poly came into the game shooting 27.9 percent from 3-point range, but the Mustangs sank their first four 3-point attempts, made six of their first nine and finished the game 8 for 19 as six different players were able to connect from beyond the arc.
Eversley credited a return home for the shooting correction. The Mustangs hadn’t played at MAC since a Dec. 14 victory over Cal State Dominguez Hills.
Since then, Cal Poly went winless on a four-game road swing, which included games at Pittsburgh and Stanford, but returned home with a renewed dedication to fit extra shooting practice into their routines.
“Concentration and shot selection,” Eversley said. “That’s just the right spots, the right shots from the right people. You’re going to make those shots, and it’s something we didn’t have in the preseason.”
Kyle Odister, Cal Poly’s leader with 29 3s coming in, hit his first two in the opening minutes, and an Everlsey dunk helped give the Mustangs a 10-2 lead.
And it didn’t stop there.
Ridge Shipley, Jamal Johnson, Eversley and Anthony Silvestri hit one 3-pointer apiece, and when Silvestri came off the bench to nail his, the Mustangs took a 30-15 lead with just under eight minutes left before the break.
Johnson finished with 15 points, five rebounds and six assists, and Odister added 12 points.
Conversely, Hawaii started 0-6 from 3-point range and didn’t sink its first until Garrett Nevels connected moments later.
Cal Poly pushed its largest lead to 18 points when David Nwaba followed a steal and slam with a long-range jumper, and the Mustangs were up 38-20 with five minutes left in the first.
Then Cal Poly lost its touch. The Mustangs missed their next four 3s, which allowed the Warriors to finish the half on a 10-3 run and cut the lead to single digits at 41-32 and go into the locker room with some momentum.
Within 3½ minutes of the second half, however, Johnson had another 3, and Nwaba layed a ball in to help push the Mustangs lead back out to 17.
Nevels led Hawaii with 16 points. Christian Standhardinger scored 15, and Isaac Fotu added 13 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
Considering Hawaii’s success coming in, it was somewhat surprising Cal Poly was able to run away with a victory, but the Mustangs do hold a 5-1 all-time series lead over the Warriors. The five victories are all consecutive and have come in fifth-year head coach Joe Callero’s tenure. Four have been against Hawaii head coach Gib Arnold.
The Mustangs also extended a Big West home wining streak to 15 games.
“They’re a solid team,” Eversley said. “All-around, they have good players at every position. The mindset we have with them is nothing special. When we get in conference play in general, it’s just a mindset that we just have to have. Our goal is to go out and dominate every statistical category.”