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ANAHEIM, Calif. – Senior point guard Amaurys Fermin (above) scored a game-high 16 points and senior forward David Hanson added 12 and 11 rebounds as the fourth-seeded Cal Poly men's basketball team advanced to the semifinal round of the Big West Conference Tournament for the first time in five seasons with a 66-54 victory against No. 5 UC Riverside on Thursday evening inside the Honda Center.
Sophomore forward Chris Eversley added 11 points for Cal Poly (18-14), which will face third-seeded UC Santa Barbara on Friday, March 9 at 9 p.m. in a nationally-televised ESPNU matchup for the right to advance to Saturday's championship bout (the game can also be viewed globally on ESPN3.com). Top-seeded Long Beach State (23-8) will face No. 7 UC Irvine (12-19) at 6:30 p.m. during Friday's other semifinal.
Cal Poly, making its first semifinal appearance since the 2006-07 Mustang squad reached that year's title game, trailed UC Riverside at the half on Thursday, 34-28, before outscoring the Highlanders during the second half, 38-20. In overturning a halftime deficit for just the third time in 15 attempts this season, Cal Poly shot 90 (18-for-20) percent from the free throw line.
Eliminated during the quarterfinals last year by UC Riverside (14-17), Cal Poly defeated the Highlanders for the first time in four matchups at the Big West Tournament.
The Mustangs, whose 18 total victories rank one shy of the 2006-07 squad's Division I program record, were held without a field goal during an early five-and-a-half minute stretch and, despite starting the game 3-for-13 from the floor, Cal Poly sunk its opening eight free throw attempts to lead 13-12 after 10 minutes.
A three-pointer from Highlander senior guard Phil Martin during the ensuing possession swung the lead in UC Riverside's favor and the Mustangs twice deadlocked the scoreline before opening up their largest lead of the first half at 22-18 through two free throws from senior forward Will Taylor six-and-a-half minutes before the break.
Still leading at 24-22 a minute later, however, Cal Poly yielded a 12-4 run to UC Riverside to close the half. The Highlanders, who lead at the break, 34-28, shot from 51.9 (14-for-27) percent from the floor during the first half compared to Cal Poly's 34.6 (9-for-26) figure.
Cal Poly required all of two minutes to close its deficit to open the second half with junior guard Dylan Royer sinking a three-pointer before Fermin knotted the scoreline at 35-35 by completing a three-point play. Taylor, Fermin and senior forward Jordan Lewis followed with layups during three of the ensuing four possessions to compliment a 12-0 run that put the Mustangs up 41-35 with 15 minutes remaining.
Held to a single point during the opening six minutes of the second half, UC Riverside closed its gap to two points through a jumper from senior guard Harrison Gaines and two free throws by junior forward David Chavarria.
Capped by an Eversley three-pointer, however, Cal Poly responded with a 9-0 run during the next three minutes to grab the game's first double-digit lead at 52-42 with eight-and-a-half minutes to play. UC Riverside closed to within single digits of Cal Poly's lead four times the remainder of the night, but failed to climb within eight points.