Cal Poly men’s basketball coach Joe Callero described the Mustangs’ exhibition victory Thursday night as nothing to celebrate and nothing for his players to hang their heads about.
Senior guard David Nwaba scored 11 of his game-high 19 points in the first half and pulled down nine rebounds in leading Cal Poly to a 73-60 win over visiting Cal State San Bernardino before a crowd of 1,076 at Mott Athletics Center.
“We felt like we had to really respect this opponent,” said Callero, now in his seventh season coaching the Mustangs. “If you’re in a position where you don’t respect everybody and play a full 40 minutes, you’ll end up getting bitten.”
The Division II Coyotes shot better than 48 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes and trailed by only six points at halftime. Cal Poly tightened up defensively to start the second half and went on a 17-5 run to effectively put the game away.
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The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Nwaba took control after intermission, scoring eight straight points to give the Mustangs a double-digit lead. His fourth consecutive make came off a well-timed alley-oop from junior Ridge Shipley in transition, forcing Cal State San Bernardino to call a timeout and regroup.
“The chemistry is there,” Nwaba said. “I feel like we just know others’ potential and finding the open guy.”
Fellow senior Joel Awich added 14 points on 5 of 10 shooting to go with five rebounds and two steals. Shipley also scored in double figures with 11 points and a game-high five assists. As a team, Cal Poly shot 41.8 percent from the floor (28 of 67) and forced 16 turnovers.
Senior Reese Morgan came off the bench to score nine points, and 6-9 sophomore Luke Meikle chipped in eight in the victory. Meikle, who transferred from Gonzaga before the 2014 season and redshirted last winter, provided quality depth behind Awich and starting forward Aleks Abrams.
“We have some guys who’ve played together a long time,” Morgan said, “but then we also have some big new additions that I think we still need to get use to a little bit.”
Second-team all-Big West Conference forward Brian Bennett played sparingly in a reserve role while he continues recovering from a preseason injury. The 6-9, 288-pound senior grabbed two rebounds and blocked one shot in nine minutes of playing time.
Callero said Bennett was unable to practice the first five weeks of school and he’ll have to work his way back into the lineup. His healthy presence will likely be missed next weekend when Cal Poly begins its regular season with games at UNLV and UCLA.
“Hopefully we have him in a much better position by the time conference comes around, but it’s not going to be a three or four day series,” Callero said. “It’s going to take him five, six, seven weeks, maybe even into conference play before he’s got his legs back.”
Fortunately the Mustangs have improved depth this season with 6-9 junior Zach Gordon returning from an injury that kept him out all of last season. Redshirt freshman Josh Martin, a transfer from Minnesota, also brings some extra length at 6-8 and 212 pounds.
Point guard Jaylen Shead was the only true freshman to play in Thursday’s scrimmage. In 18 minutes off the bench, Shead grabbed four rebounds and handed out four assists with one turnover and one steal. Cal Poly’s two other true freshmen – Serigne Athj and Hank Hollingsworth – both dressed down but neither played.
“For his first collegiate games I think he did pretty good,” Nwaba said of Shead. “You could tell the nerves were a little bit there but for the most part he did well. He played his part.”