It’s almost as if Kyle Odister is waiting for the biggest moment.
The Cal Poly senior guard is not only unafraid to launch the weighty 3-pointers, he seems to be enjoying them more than anything else.
“When the score is close at the end of the game, I find it exciting and fun to me,” Odister said. “When the game is real close, and I can hit a big shot, everybody on the team knows I can knock it down, and everybody’s looking.”
That was certainly the case Thursday as Odister’s late-game heroics helped knock off head coach Reggie Theus and visiting Cal State Northridge at Mott Athletics Center and keep a hot Big West Conference start going with a 62-52 victory.
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Odister was 4 for 4 from 3-point range. He hit one with 4:20 left to turn a one-point lead into a four-point spread. Then when the Matadors had cut it back down to two with 1:57 left, Odister swished another.
It was a free-throw fest from there, and David Nwaba helped put it away with a clutch effort at the line.
Nwaba scored a team-high 16 points, his team-leading 11th double-digit scoring output, and Odister finished with 14 to lead Cal Poly (7-9, 3-0 Big West Conference), which all of a sudden seems like a front-runner for a conference title.
That wasn’t the case before Big West play began last week. The Mustangs had the second-worst nonconference record in the conference coming in, but they have methodically knocked off Hawaii, UC Santa Barbara and now Cal State Northridge, who instantly became a contender with the addition of former NBA player and coach Theus.
The Matadors (10-8, 2-1 Big West) also came in unbeaten in Big West play averaging 84 points per game on the season, and despite its high-scoring tendencies being stifled by the Cal Poly defense, Cal State Northridge hung close enough to make it tense all the way.
That’s why Odister’s heroics came in handy. Nearly every shot attempt by either team over the final eight minutes was pressure-loaded.
“Sometimes those personalities,” Mustangs head coach Joe Callero said, “that’s the nature of a shooting guard sometimes. They’re confident that if they miss two or three, ‘Eh, I’m going to make the next one,’ and I think the maturity he’s shown in conference play is his shot selection.”
Cal Poly senior forward Chris Eversley added nine points and nine rebounds, including a clutch step-back 15-footer with 5:43 left that broke a 45-45 tie. Nwaba made just three field goals but was 10 of 14 from the free-throw line, including 7 of 8 in the final 4:35.
Mustangs sophomore big man Joel Awich had a career-high four blocks, and senior point guard Jamal Johnson also had a steady game, hitting two 3-pointers while scoring nine points and dishing out a game-high six assists.
Cal Poly starts 3-0 in the Big West for just the third time but has never opened 4-0. The Mustangs will get the chance to do that Saturday against visiting Long Beach State (5-12, 1-2 Big West) as they try to keep an impressive home winning streak intact.
Cal Poly has won 17 of its past 18 at MAC overall and owns a 16-game home wining streak in conference play.
The Mustangs sit tied atop the Big West standings with UC Irvine, which has also started 3-0. Could the hot start put Cal Poly in the conference driver’s seat?
“Hopefully,” Nwaba said. “We just have to keep working hard in practice and make sure we pull off every win, especially at home.”