Chris Eversley had the play of the game.
The play of Mamadou Ndiaye and UC Irvine won the game.
Eversley made a highlight reel dunk over the Anteaters’ 7-foot-6 big man early on, but the Cal Poly men’s basketball team fell 64-50 to continue a Big West Conference tailspin.
The Mustangs (8-13, 4-4 Big West) head into next Thursday’s bye in need of some rest and time to refocus having lost three straight and four of five, disappointing the 3,032 crammed into Mott Athletics Center for a game broadcast nationally on ESPNU in the first sellout in the past 29 home games.
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“The bye is probably about the best thing for us right now,” Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero said. “Sometimes, pushing the gas pedal to get more and more energy and gas is probably not the best thing.”
Luke Nelson had a game-high 15 points and five rebounds for UC Irvine, and the Anteaters got 14 points and five assists from Alex Young and 10 points from Mike Best.
Eversley had a team-high 14 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, and senior guard Kyle Odister scored 12 in his return from a foot injury.
Odister started and played 31 minutes after missing the past three games, but he was rusty, shooting just 4 for 15 from the field, 2 of 9 on 3-pointers, and remains hurt. Six other players, Callero said, are also nursing typical midseason nagging injuries.
In their three previous losses, the Mustangs were a final shot away from tying or winning the game.
They totaled 58 points in each of the past three games. Saturday’s 50-point output was the first double-digit loss against a conference opponent.
“There are three games that are lost by a possession,” Callero said. “This is the first game that was lost by double digits. You’ve got to evaluate, but you can’t throw the entire thing out the window and start from scratch.
“There’s obviously some offensive concerns that we had prior to this game. When you put a 7-6 guy out there, it just accelerate that concern. You’re like ‘wow.’ ”
With an 8-foot wingspan anchoring UC Irvine’s zone defense, Ndiaye had four points, three rebounds and three blocks, but his height discouraged any Mustangs penetration, and just the big man’s presence helped create room for his hot-shooting teammates to get open.
The Anteaters (14-9, 5-2 Big West) were 7 for 16 from 3-point range and shot 48.1 percent from the floor overall. And that was with a thundering crowd decked in black apparel. A line of students that wrapped around the building was even turned away for the televised game.
Cal Poly defenders paid too much attention to Ndiaye when he was in, and it left shooters open who the Mustangs would normally blanket much better if not worried about giving away dunks.
“It opens up so much space elsewhere,” Callero said. “We were afraid to unlock and help elsewhere because you’re afraid they’re going to get a lob right to the rim.”
Ndiaye had several slams, but, no doubt, the highlight of the game was Eversley’s first-half dunk, which came off a steal near midcourt by Jamal Johnson that appeared to be kneed away.
Twitter was buzzing over Eversley’s dunk. Since it came with the tallest player in college basketball sticking his giant paw at the backboard, the breakaway slam had people calling for a spot on ESPN’s SportsCenter’s countdown of the top-10 plays.
Anteaters head coach Russell Turner drew a technical foul on the play, and with a free throw, Cal Poly took an 11-4 lead, its largest of the game, with 16:44 left in the first half.
Ndiaye had to hustle back to challenge the shot, but he was a step late getting to the rim.
“It really didn’t matter” if he knew Ndiaye was there, Eversley said. “I was more focused on us getting the steal and a basket. At that point, you just want to get two points because we had the momentum. You just want to keep it going. Whether he was trailing or not, we just had to make sure we got two points either way.”
That’s when UC Irvine caught fire from 3-point range, hitting four of its first five attempts, and 6 of 9 in the first half.
The Anteaters shot 55.6 percent from the floor before the break, and after Eversley’s dunk, they went on a 19-4 run over a 7½-minute stretch to forge a double-digit lead.
It was the first time in Big West play that Cal Poly trailed at the half, and though the Mustangs cut the lead to nine at 48-39 with 11:59 left, they would get no closer.
“They made shots,” Odister said. “They made a lot of difficult shots, and we’ve just got to make stops.”