RIVERSIDE – Sophomore guard Ridge Shipley scored a game-high 15 points Saturday evening, but the Cal Poly men's basketball program was held without a field goal for the final 11 minutes and dropped a 48-44 decision to UC Riverside inside SRC Arena.
Junior forward Brian Bennett added 12 points for Cal Poly (13-12, 6-7), which trailed 30-22 at halftime before opening the second half with a 12-0 run. Leading 41-34 at the 11-minute mark, however, the Mustangs were kept to just three free throws inside the final minute. In a matchup that featured the lowest combined point total in a Cal Poly game this season, the Mustangs held UC Riverside (14-13, 7-6) to a 36.7 (18-for-49) percent field goal mark, but shot just 33.3 (15-for-45) percent themselves.
With Saturday's loss, Cal Poly was relegated to a sixth-place tie in the Big West Conference standings alongside Hawai'i (6-7, 18-11), which fell at league-leading UC Davis earlier Saturday. UC Riverside, which entered play Saturday tied for fifth place alongside Cal Poly and Hawai'i, claimed sole possession of its current spot.
With three games remaining in the 2014-15 regular season, Cal Poly opens its final home stand of the year on Thursday, Feb. 26 versus UC Irvine at 7 p.m.
In a matchup that featured four lead changes inside the opening four minutes, UC Riverside received three early three-pointers from junior guard Jaylen Bland to build a 13-9 advantage.
Despite holding the Highlanders to just two layups during an eight-minute span midway through the half, Cal Poly found itself trailing 23-15 at the six-minute mark after UC Riverside reeled off an 8-0 run.
Cal Poly, itself held to just a solitary free throw by Maliik Love during a seven-minute stretch, closed to a 25-22 deficit following a jumper by junior guard Reese Morgan a minute before halftime. UC Riverside, however, received a fourth three-pointer from Bland and two free throws by senior guard Austin Quick to lead 30-22 at the break.
The Mustangs, however, opened the second half with their 12-0 run backboned by two Shipley three-pointers and two Bennett layups to take a 34-30 lead with 15-and-a-half minutes to go.
UC Riverside briefly tied matters at 34-34 with layups by Quick and senior guard Nick Gruninger, but Cal Poly answered by keeping the Highlanders scoreless for a five-and-a-half minute stretch and, with a 7-0 run, extended the lead to 41-34 with 11 minutes to play.
And that's where Cal Poly's point total stood for the ensuing 10-and-a-half minutes as UC Riverside cobbled together 10 successive points to lead 44-41 with 50 seconds on the clock.
Junior forward Joel Awich, who finished with a game-high eight rebounds, snapped Cal Poly's drought with a free throw at the 26-second mark, but Gruninger hit two on the opposite end as the Mustangs were forced to foul.
Cal Poly's final chance to snatch a late victory occurred with 11 seconds to play as senior wing Michael Bolden was fouled on a three-point attempt with the Mustangs trailing, 46-42. Bolden, however, knocked down just two of three free throw attempts and Bland cemented UC Riverside's win with two more free throws for the Highlanders.