POSTGAME REACTION: JOE CALLERO
NORTHRIDGE – Junior Joel Awich (right) scored a career-high 15 points and fellow forward Brian Bennett grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds, but the Cal Poly men's basketball program was unable to recover a lost second-half lead as the Mustangs fell to CSUN inside the Matadome on Saturday evening, 55-48.
Junior wing David Nwaba added 12 points for Cal Poly (8-8, 1-3), which led 33-27 with 15 minutes remaining before CSUN closed the matchup with a 28-15 run. Cal Poly was held to a 32.1 (18-for-56) percent field goal mark while CSUN (6-13, 2-2) shot 60.0 (12-for-20) percent in the second half alone to pull away.
Ranked second among 345 Division I programs with just 8.7 turnovers per game, Cal Poly committed only six versus CSUN.
In the first meeting between the two squads since Cal Poly topped CSUN in the 2014 Big West Conference Tournament championship game to earn the program's first NCAA Division I Tournament berth, the Mustangs lost to the Matadors for the first time in five meetings.
Cal Poly, which will play just one home contest during a 46-day span before facing Cal State Fullerton on Thursday, Jan. 22, opens a two-game home stand versus the Titans at 7 p.m.
During Saturday's matchup, Nwaba scored Cal Poly's opening six points before successive three-pointers by junior guard Reese Morgan and a three-point play and putback from Awich provided Cal Poly a 17-11 lead after 11 minutes.
However, the Mustangs – who limited CSUN to just one field goal during a nine-minute span in the first half – conceded three baskets in a four-possession span as the Matadors tied the game at 17-17 two minutes before the break.
An Awich dunk followed by a Nwaba layup stemmed CSUN's run, but Matador freshman guard Ajon Efferson sank a layup himself 19 seconds before halftime as Cal Poly took a 21-19 advantage into intermission.
A three-pointer from senior guard Maliik Love spurred a 7-2 run by the Mustangs out of halftime and Morgan's third three-pointer of the night kept Cal Poly up 31-25 with 16 minutes to play.
The Matadors, however, received baskets from senior forwards Devonte Elliot and Stephen Maxwell before a three-pointer by senior guard Stephan Hicks brought CSUN within a point of the Mustangs with 13 minutes to play.
Twice more CSUN drew within one point of Cal Poly's lead before two free throws apiece by Maxwell and sophomore guard Aaron Parks allowed the Matadors to overtake Cal Poly at 40-38. Maxwell then completed a three-point play to put Cal Poly down 43-38 with seven-and-a-half minutes remaining.
Through a Bennett putback and three-point play by sophomore guard Ridge Shipley, Cal Poly rallied to tie the scoreline at 43-43.
The Matadors, however, hit back once more with baskets from Hicks and Elliott and Cal Poly closed within two points of the CSUN lead just once the remainder of the evening.