ANAHEIM, Calif. – Junior forward Chris Eversley (above, left) scored a team-leading 12 points Friday evening, but the third-seeded Cal Poly men's basketball program was eliminated from the Big West Conference Tournament at the semifinal stage for the second successive season after falling against No. 2 Pacific on a last-second shot inside the Honda Center, 55-53.
During a matchup that featured 18 lead changes, 14 ties and in which neither program led by more than four points, Pacific senior forward Travis Fulton put back a missed jumper from senior guard Lorenzo McCloud with a second remaining to send Pacific to Saturday's 7:30 p.m. championship game. The Tigers (21-12) will face fourth-seeded UC Irvine, which knocked out No. 1 and defending tournament champion Long Beach State earlier Friday, 67-60.
Trailing 51-49 with 90 seconds to play, Cal Poly (18-13) received a jumper from Eversley to square the scoreline before senior guard Chris O'Brien knocked down two free throws with a minute left to put the Mustangs up two.
McCloud rolled home a layup on the ensuing possession and with 27 seconds on the clock, Mustang senior guard Dylan Royer missed a three-point attempt from the left wing. Pacific was awarded possession after a scramble for Royer's miss sent the ball out of bounds. At the other end of the Honda Center, McCloud fell short with a jumper from the right corner. Fulton, however, collected the errant shot in the lane before hoisting the game winner.
Bidding to reach the program's first championship game in six years, Cal Poly fell behind early before successive three-pointers from freshman forward Joel Awich and a shot clock buzzer-beating effort from junior guard Kyle Odister provided the Mustangs a 12-8 lead with 11-and-a-half minutes remaining in the first half. The Mustangs were limited to just two field goals during the ensuing six minutes, but stayed close by holding Pacific to a 36.8 (7-for-19) percent field goal mark during the first half.
Down 21-20 90 seconds before the break, Cal Poly saw Eversley finish a three-point play to place the Mustangs up two at halftime.
A jumper from freshman forward Brian Bennett gave Cal Poly a brief 25-21 cushion to open the second half before a 7-2 Tigers run – keyed by a layup and three-pointer from junior forward Tony Gill on successive possessions – swung a 28-27 lead in Pacific's favor.
Cal Poly answered with an Eversley free throw to knot the scoreline before eventually grabbing a 33-30 lead through a three-pointer from O'Brien and a layup by junior guard Jamal Johnson with 14 minutes to play.
Advantages remained elusive, however, and the two programs swapped leads three times during the next three minutes. Another Gill three-pointer gave Pacific a 41-37 with eight minutes left, but Cal Poly countered with an O'Brien layup before Royer hit his first three-pointer of the night to put the Mustangs up 42-41.
Pacific guard Rodrigo de Souza hit a three-pointer from the right corner on the ensuing possession, but Royer – ranked 26th among Division I players with a 42.5 percent three-point mark – knocked down another three-pointer two minutes later to put Cal Poly up 45-44 with four minutes to play.
The lead change hands three more times before Eversley hit his jumper with 90 seconds to play.
O'Brien finished with 11 points for Cal Poly while Royer scored 10.
Despite Friday's loss, Cal Poly still enjoyed the finest regular season in program history. In finishing third in the Big West standings with a 12-6 mark, Cal Poly established program records for Big West victories and Big West winning percentage (.667). Cal Poly, which finished 13-1 inside the Mott Athletics Center during the regular season, also set Division I program records for home victories, fewest home losses and home winning percentage (.929).
The Mustangs entered Friday's semifinal matchup with a six-game winning streak, a spurt which matched the lengthiest streak under fourth-year head coach Joe Callero.