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ANAHEIM, Calif. – Senior forward and tournament Most Valuable Player Chris Eversley scored a game-high 18 points for the Cal Poly men's basketball team, which will make the first NCAA Division I Tournament appearance in school history after the Mustangs outlasted fifth-seeded Cal State Northridge Saturday evening in the Big West Conference Tournament finale inside the Honda Center, 61-59.
Sophomore wing David Nwaba added 17 points and freshman guard Ridge Shipley chipped in 14 for seventh-seeded Cal Poly (13-19), which became the lowest seed in the 39-year history of the Big West Tournament to win the competition. The Mustangs, also the lowest seed to make the Big West Tournament final since 10th-seeded UC Irvine in 1994, will find out their opening-round opponent and site for the NCAA Tournament when the 2014 bracket is unveiled on Sunday, March 16. The NCAA Tournament Selection Show will air on CBS at 3 p.m.
Cal Poly, making its third appearance in the Big West Tournament championship game after falling short in the 2003 and 2007 finales, trailed the Matadors (17-18) 59-55 with 92 seconds remaining on Saturday. After Nwaba sank two free throws to bring Cal Poly to within two with 70 seconds left, the Mustangs rebounded an errant three-pointer from Matador senior guard Josh Greene.
On the ensuing possession, Shipley drained a three-pointer from the top of the arc with 14 seconds to play to place Cal Poly up 60-59. After a Cal State Northridge timeout, Matador sophomore guard Landon Drew was whistled for a charge with four seconds to play. The offensive foul swung possession back to Cal Poly and senior guard Kyle Odister drained the first of two free throws to cement the final scoreline.
Cal State Northridge, which lost twice to Cal Poly during the regular season, failed to get a shot off after rebounding Odister's missed free throw.
Cal Poly, which advanced to Saturday's finale by trouncing second-seeded UC Santa Barbara (69-38) in Thursday's quarterfinal round and edging top-seeded UC Irvine (61-58) in Friday's semifinal phase, shot 45.1 (23-for-51) percent from the floor while limiting Cal State Northridge to a 33.3 (20-for-60) percent clip.
Holding Cal Poly without a field goal for the opening three-and-a-half minutes, Cal State Northridge – following successive three-point plays from junior forwards J.J. Thomas and Stephen Maxwell – built a 15-5 lead to open the matchup.
The Mustangs, also held to a 3-for-18 (16.7 percent) shooting start, still trailed 21-11 at the eight-minute mark when three-pointers from Odister and Eversley pulled Cal Poly to within four points of Cal State Northridge.
The Mustangs closed to within four points of the Matador lead thrice more before a Nwaba layup cut the gap to 27-25 70 seconds before the break. However, Maxwell – who finished with 13 first-half points – hit a jumper with 17 seconds left to put Cal State Northridge up at intermission, 29-25.
Cal Poly opened the second half with successive layups from Nwaba before an Eversley jumper placed the Mustangs up front for the time on Saturday, 31-29. The two sides exchanged leads twice more before a three-point play from sophomore forward Brian Bennett provided Cal Poly a 40-36 edge with 12-and-a-half remaining.
The Matadors, however, recovered to keep Cal Poly to just three free throws during a four-and-a-half minute stretch and utilized a 9-3 run to reclaim a 45-43 advantage. Eversley hit a jumper to square the game, but the Matadors maintained their advantage until a jumper, three-pointer and free throw by Shipley placed Cal Poly in a 50-49 ascendancy with five minutes to play.
After tying the game for ninth time at 55-55 with two-and-a-half to play, Cal State Northridge took its final lead 14 seconds later through two free throws from forward Tre Hale-Edmerson.
Photo courtesy of Ian Billings / Mustang News