ANAHEIM, Calif. – Senior guard Shawn Lewis scored a team-high 18 points and sophomore guard Dylan Royer added a career-high 14 – all during the second half – but the second-seeded Cal Poly men's basketball program was eliminated from the 2011 Big West Conference Tournament in overtime during Thursday's first round by No. 7 UC Riverside, 70-66.
With the victory, UC Riverside (12-19) advanced to face top-seeded Long Beach State during Friday's first semifinal matchup at 6:30 p.m. Cal Poly (15-15), which also received 16 points from junior forward David Hanson, was eliminated at the quarterfinal stage for the second-successive season.
A three-point play by UC Riverside junior guard Kareem Nitoto put his side ahead 68-66 with 14 seconds to play in overtime but, during the game's final sequence, Lewis (above) slipped at the top of the arc while setting up for a three-pointer and the ensuing attempt was blocked by Highlander junior guard Phil Martin. UC Riverside's Daymond Cowlah ended up with the loose ball and with Cal Poly forced to foul, the Highlanders' freshman guard sank successive free throws to ice the game.
Cal Poly, playing its first overtime game in more than a year, saw regulation end in a similarly frantic fashion. With the Mustangs trailing, 53-52, Hanson sank one of his four three-pointers to provide Cal Poly a two-point cushion with 29 seconds remaining. With four seconds to play, however, Nitoto drove to the rim, was fouled by Hanson, and sank both of his attempts to force the overtime period.
Capped by a layup from Big West Co-Freshman of the Year selection and guard Maliik Love, Cal Poly – seeded as high as No. 2 for only the second time in program history – ran out to an 8-3 lead after just three minutes. UC Riverside, however, countered by holding the Mustangs scoreless for the ensuing four minutes and, keyed by three-pointers from senior guard Javon Borum and Nitoto, the Highlanders built a 17-8 advantage with 13 minutes remaining in the first half.
Freshman guard Jamal Johnson eventually broke Cal Poly's scoring drought with a three-pointer from the right wing as the Mustangs – despite shooting just 37.0 percent from the floor during the opening half – steadily clawed their way back to a 28-23 deficit at halftime.
Successive three-pointers by Hanson and one by Lewis during the initial three minutes of the second half allowed the Mustangs to quickly deadlock the scoreline at 32-32. Lewis followed with a spinning jumper in the lane moments later before his second three-pointer of the half retied the score at 37-37. Far from finished, Lewis hit a third three-pointer during a three-minute span to give Cal Poly the lead before ending a 13-point flourish with a transition layup to put the Mustangs up 42-37 with 13 minutes to play.
Layups by Nitoto and junior forward Kevin Bradshaw and a three-pointer from Borum handed UC Riverside a brief 44-42 advantage with nine-and-a-half minutes remaining. However, sophomore guard Dylan Royer hit a pair of three-pointers 30 seconds apart to hand the Mustangs a 48-44 lead with eight-and-a-half minutes to play.
The Highlanders twice drew within a point of Cal Poly's advantage before Nitoto sent UC Riverside into its 53-52 lead with two-and-a-half minutes remaining.
Despite the defeat, the 2010-11 Mustangs still matched program records for highest regular season showing in the Big West standings (second) and total Big West victories (10).
Individually, Cal Poly is slated to lose just one player to graduation in Lewis, an All-Big West first team selection for the 2010-11 campaign and the seventh-leading scorer in Cal Poly history with 1,283 points.