A healthy David Nwaba is going to be hard for most teams in the Big West Conference to stop this winter.
Cal Poly’s senior standout scored a game-high 19 points on 8 of 13 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds to help the Mustangs shake off a slow start and hold on down the stretch to beat Cal State Monterey Bay 71-62 in a nonconference men’s basketball game Wednesday night at Mott Athletics Center.
Nwaba, an explosive 6-foot-4, 210-pound shooting guard, was one of three Cal Poly players to finish in double-digit scoring against the Division II Otters. Senior forward Joel Awich scored 17 points and grabbed five rebounds, and true freshman point guard Jaylen Shead chipped in 13 points in 15 minutes off the bench.
“You’re seeing now what we think he’s capable of,” head coach Joe Callero said of Nwaba.
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Nwaba averaged more than 11 points and four rebounds per game during an up-and-down junior year. He missed the first few weeks of the 2014-15 season while recovering from a broken wrist and then caught mononucleosis during the second half of the year.
Appearing back at full strength, Nwaba helped the Mustangs overcome a sluggish start Wednesday night. Coming off consecutive close losses at national powers UNLV and UCLA over the weekend, Cal Poly fell into an early hole against CSU Monterey Bay.
The Otters made three straight 3-pointers to start the game and built an early 11-3 advantage. The Mustangs (1-2) slowly chipped away at the deficit, eventually taking their first lead, 22-21, on two straight baskets by Nwaba.
Nwaba also threw down a thunderous dunk in transition as part of an 11-0 run by Cal Poly to go ahead 27-21 with 3:19 left in the first half. The Otters were held scoreless for more than five minutes during that stretch.
CSU Monterey Bay recovered to tie the score at 31 at halftime on the strength of eight straight points by senior forward Marquise Washington.
“It’s just a game of runs. All it takes is one bucket and one stop to start going and creating that momentum,” Nwaba said. “That’s just what we try to do. Make those big stops, rebound and push.”
Shead gave the Mustangs a nice early boost off the bench by making his first three shots from the floor for eight quick points midway through the first half.
The Pflugerville, Texas, native finished the game with a career-high 13 points on 5 of 6 shooting while backing up starter Ridge Shipley.
“Jaylen was doing what he does best,” Nwaba said, “just being aggressive going to the basket. He showed no fear.”
Junior forward Zach Gordon also turned in his best performance of the early season. The 6-foot-8 Gordon, who missed all of last season with an injury, started the second half in place of Aleks Abrams and seemed to corral every loose rebound.
He finished the game with six points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in 20 minutes.
Callero said Gordon did not practice Tuesday in order to rest following the long weekend. The coaching staff considered not playing Gordon at all against CSU Monterey Bay to have him fresh for Cal Poly’s upcoming road trip, but that tentative decision quickly gave way.
“I thought he was a complete key to the game,” Callero said. “I thought his rebounding, he changed the complexity of the game.
“Every time he was in there, he was critical to protecting the rim.”
Cal Poly has two more games scheduled this week during the regional round of the Maui Invitational. The Mustangs will play Austin Peay (0-2) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday and will face either Northern Colorado or UMBC Sunday afternoon. Both games will be played at Bank of Colorado Arena in Greeley, Colo.
Cal Poly’s next home game is scheduled for Nov. 28 against University of Antelope Valley.