RIVERSIDE – Senior guard David Nwaba (top) led five Cal Poly men's basketball players in double-digit scoring figures with 21 points as the Mustangs outdistanced UC Riverside Saturday evening inside the SRC Arena, 86-78.
Senior guard Reese Morgan finished with 17 points for Cal Poly (9-15, 3-8), which led by as much as 17 points in the second half, saw its lead cut to three twice, but finished with its third highest point total of the year to snap a five-game slide. Junior guard Ridge Shipley added 12 points, freshman guard Jaylen Shead scored 11 and distributed five assists and senior forward Joel Awich chipped in 10 points for Cal Poly, which shot 47.4 (27-for-57) percent from the floor and 45.0 (9-for-20) percent from three-point range.
Cal Poly, which kept UC Riverside (13-14, 4-7) to a 30.4 (7-for-23) percent three-point mark, also limited leading scorer Jaylen Bland – averaging 16.5 points per game entering Saturday's contest – to just five points.
Cal Poly opens its final home stand of the season inside Mott Athletics Center – a three-game run – on Thursday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. versus UC Davis.
UC Riverside required less than three minutes to sprint out to a 7-0 advantage Saturday evening, but the Mustangs – backed by three-pointers from Awich and sophomore forward Meikle – responded with a 10-2 run to take their first lead of the evening.
The two opponents then traded the lead on three successive possessions before a three-pointer from UC Riverside guard Steven Jones provided the Highlanders a 19-14 lead 11 minutes before the break. The five-point gap, however, was largest lead any side would extend against the other until a 13-3 run by Cal Poly late in the half provided the Mustangs a 35-28 lead with three minutes remaining.
Cal Poly, which shot 60.0 (6-for-10) percent from three-point range during the first half, received Awich's second of the night to go up 38-30 with two-and-a-half minutes to play before holding a 40-35 advantage at the break.
UC Riverside scored the opening basket of the second half, but Cal Poly connected on the ensuing three and, behind a three-pointer and reverse layup from Nwaba, the Mustangs stretched their lead to 47-37 with 17-and-a-half minutes to play.
Cal Poly then put together a 13-6 run during a four-and-a-half-minute span to go up by as much as 60-43 with 13 minutes remaining.
UC Riverside, however, responded with a 10-0 run that encompassed just 87 seconds and closed to within a 60-53 deficit.
Nwaba stemmed UC Riverside's charge with a layup and two free throws by junior forward Zach Gordon and an Awich jumper helped Cal Poly reestablish a brief double-digit advantage at 66-56.
The Highlanders responded with a second charge on Cal Poly's lead and, in keeping the Mustangs to just one field goal during a seven-minute span, cut the gap to 71-68 with two-and-a-half minutes remaining.
Cal Poly, however, received senior forward Brian Bennett's third layup of the night to float the lead back to five points. UC Riverside moved within three points of the Mustangs just once more as Cal Poly knocked down 11 of its final 14 free throw attempts to preserve the advantage and put Saturday's game away.