RIVERSIDE – Senior guard Marcellus Garrick finished 6-for-7 from three-point range and junior guard Job Alexander scored a career high 15 points Thursday evening as the Cal Poly men's basketball program – which led UC Riverside by just three at halftime – outscored the Highlanders by 23 points in the second half to earn their first Big West Conference win of the season with a 71-45 decision inside the SRC Arena.
Freshman guard Jared Rice (above) added a collegiate best 12 points and senior forward Kuba Niziol finished with 10 for Cal Poly (5-14, 1-5), which led UC Riverside (8-15, 2-5) at halftime, 28-25. The Mustangs, however, scored 19 of the first 22 points in the second half to quickly pull away from UC Riverside and produce the program's first road win since topping Santa Clara on Nov. 18, 2017.
Cal Poly, which sank nine of its 12 three-point attempts in the second half, shot 51.9 (27-52) percent from the floor and 54.5 (12-for-22) percent from beyond the arc. Cal Poly, which also received a career high six assists from Alexander, committed just eight turnovers.
The result marked a 49-point turnaround in the season series between Cal Poly and UC Riverside after the highlanders handed the Mustangs a 74-51 defeat in San Luis Obispo just eight days prior.
Thursday's matchup also marked head coach Joe Callero's 300th game in charge of the Mustangs. Callero joined Ed Jorgensen (473 games, 1947-66) and Ernie Wheeler (394, 1972-86) as the only head coaches at Cal Poly with at least 300 games on the sideline.
The Mustangs close their two-game road trip with a 7 p.m. matchup at CSUN on Saturday, Feb. 2.
Facing a 13-6 deficit after just four minutes Thursday evening, Cal Poly held UC Riverside without a field goal for an ensuing six-minute span. At the other end of SRC Arena, Cal Poly put together a 9-2 run to tie the matchup at 15-15 on an Alexander layup 10 minutes before the break.
Senior guard Donovan Fields helped Cal Poly overtake the Highlanders at 20-19 on a three-pointer with six-and-a-half minutes remaining in the half. The two sides traded the lead twice more before the Mustangs ultimately took a 28-25 advantage into halftime.
Alexander opened Cal Poly's second half with a putback basket before Niziol followed with two free throws and junior forward Hank Hollingsworth added a layup as the Mustangs stretched their lead to 34-25 with 18 minutes to go.
UC Riverside guard Zac Watson stemmed Cal Poly's run with a free throw, but Alexander added another layup to hand Cal Poly the game's first double-digit lead at 38-28.
Garrick then bookended a three-pointer from sophomore forward Mark Crowe with two three-pointers of his own as Cal Poly's 19-3 run out of halftime allowed the Mustangs to stretch their lead to 47-28 with 12 minutes to go.
The Mustangs led by as much as 29 at 71-42 after Niziol's second three-pointer.