Coming off a heartbreaking loss two days earlier, the Cal Poly men’s basketball team showed its resiliency in thrilling fashion Saturday night.
On the verge of losing their fourth consecutive game, the Mustangs rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit to defeat Long Beach State 96-92 in double overtime in front of another sellout crowd inside Mott Athletics Center.
Senior forward Brian Bennett came off the bench and delivered his best performance of the season, scoring a game-high 21 points on 9-for-13 shooting and grabbing 12 rebounds to lead six Cal Poly players in double figures.
“What I really like about our team is that we do have some emotional maturity,” head coach Joe Callero said.
That much was clear at the start of the second half, when Callero went with a different lineup, inserting Taylor Sutlive and Josh Martin along side regular starters Reese Morgan, Zach Gordon and Ridge Shipley.
With a renewed sense of urgency, Cal Poly (7-9, 1-2 Big West Conference) chipped away at the deficit against a 49ers team that looks as athletic as any team in the Big West this winter.
Things got interesting in the final minute of regulation, when redshirt freshman Josh Martin and Long Beach State’s Travis Hammonds got tangled up under the basket. A common foul was called on Martin, and Hammonds was given a technical for hitting Martin in the face with his elbow.
The result was two dead ball free throws for the 49ers, who missed both and held an 82-75 lead. Because of the technical on Hammonds, Cal Poly was able to pick its free throw shooter and would retain possession following the attempts.
Morgan calmly made both free throws and on the ensuing possession buried a deep 3-pointer from the top of the key, tying the score at 80-all and sending the Mustangs to their first overtime game of the season.
“We were just trying to stay loose, stay ready,” Morgan said, “knowing that was going to happen and we could have the potential to get a five-point play.
“Luckily he missed both of his free throws, we were able to make ours and it was a big turn around for us.”
In the first overtime period, it was senior forward Joel Awich who delivered the timely basket. Much like he did against UC Santa Barbara on Thursday, Awich made a 3-pointer from the right wing that tied the score at 88 and it stayed that way until the second overtime.
Bennett’s made free throw with 1:34 left in double overtime put Cal Poly ahead 92-91, establishing its first lead since the opening minute of the game. Two more free throws from Morgan with 17 seconds left sealed the victory, sending the Mustangs to their first conference win of the season.
“I think what it taught me a lot is that we can fight,” Morgan said. “We had a close one with Santa Barbara that I think we let get away. We were in the game at Hawaii. I think this shows that we can finish a game.”
Morgan scored all 14 of his points in the second half, and Martin finished with 14 points and three rebounds. Awich added 12 points and six rebounds off the bench, and Taylor Sutlive and Zach Gordon contributed 11 points each in the victory.
As a team, Cal Poly recorded 20 assists on 35 made baskets and limited its turnovers to 11 over the course of a 50-minute game.
“We hit big shots when we needed them,” Bennett said. “So we know that we can pay with anyone in our conference. The Big West is so talented this year, every team is so good and night in, night out it’s going to be a dogfight just like tonight was.”
Long Beach State dropped to 8-11 overall and 2-2 in the Big West. It was just the third time Cal Poly has defeated the 49ers over the last 13 meetings.