LONG BEACH, Calif. – Sophomore guard Chris O'Brien scored a career-high 16 points and freshman guard Maliik Love added 10, but the Cal Poly men's basketball program, looking to move within a game of Big West Conference-leading Long Beach State, instead dropped a 61-55 decision versus the 49ers on Thursday evening inside Walter Pyramid.
Junior center Will Donahue added a game-high 10 rebounds and nine points for Cal Poly (14-13, 9-5), which retained sole possession of second place in the Big West standings despite forcing 15 Long Beach State turnovers. During a game that featured 19 lead changes, Cal Poly – looking to match the 2006-07 Mustang squad's program record of six-successive Big West victories – was limited to a 36.5 percent mark from the floor and a 34.8 percent mark from three-point range.
The Mustangs can still match the 2002-03 Cal Poly's squad's Division I program record for total conference victories at Cal State Fullerton on Saturday, March 26. Tip time inside Titan Gym is scheduled for 8:05 p.m. with the matchup televised nationally on ESPNU.
Long Beach State (18-10, 12-2), which captured the Big West regular season crown with the victory, opened Thursday's matchup by watching guard Casper Ware knock down a pair of three-pointers inside two minutes. Mustang senior guard Shawn Lewis answered with two three-pointers of his own to provide Cal Poly an early 8-6 lead. Ware, however, sank his third three-pointer in as many attempts on the ensuing possession and Long Beach State guard Greg Plater followed with another for the 49ers, who didn't attempt a shot inside the arc during the opening six minutes.
Cal Poly, successfully able to transform a number of Long Beach State's early turnovers into points, received three layups from Donahue to grasp a 17-16 advantage 13 minutes before halftime. The Mustangs though were held to just a single Jordan Lewis layup during the ensuing seven-and-a-half minutes and trailed by as much as 26-19.
O'Brien revived Cal Poly's fortunes with a pair of three-pointers to place the Mustangs within a point of the Long Beach State lead. He answered again with his third three-pointer from the left corner during the final five minutes of the half as the Mustangs trailed at the break, 31-28.
Held scoreless during the opening half, Love converted three layups during the opening four minutes to help Cal Poly claw to a 36-35 lead. A layup from sophomore guard Drake U'u moments later helped keep Cal Poly in front, but the lead changed hands 11 times during an ensuing seven-minute span with neither side leading by more than a single point until Lewis buried his third three-pointer of the night. The shot put Cal Poly up, 50-48, with four-and-a-half minutes remaining.
Ware, who finished with a game-high 25 points, struck back with his fifth three-pointer of the night on the ensuing possession to hand Long Beach State an unassailable 51-50 lead. Plater followed out of a media timeout with another three-pointer and the Mustangs closed to within three points of the Long Beach State lead just twice during the final three minutes.