POSTGAME REACTION: JOE CALLERO
LAS VEGAS – Seniors Joel Awich (top) and David Nwaba each scored a game-high 15 points Friday evening, but the Cal Poly men's basketball team – after erasing a 13-point deficit midway through the second half – dropped its 2015-16 season opener to UNLV inside the Thomas & Mack Center, 74-72.
Senior guard Reese Morgan added 12 points for Cal Poly (0-1), which trailed UNLV (1-0) 62-49 with nine minutes remaining before employing an 18-5 run during a seven-minute span to tie the matchup at 67-67. A layup from guard Jordan Cornish broke the deadlock and three free throws placed the Runnin' Rebels up 72-67 with 20 seconds to play before Nwaba converted a three-point play to cut Cal Poly's deficit to 72-70 with 15 seconds remaining.
With Cal Poly fouling to regain possession, however, UNLV guard Jerome Seagears knocked down two free throws and two free throws by Morgan with a second remaining proved just a consolation.
In his first appearance for Cal Poly since the 2014 NCAA Tournament, sophomore guard Taylor Sutlive added 11 points for the Mustangs, who limited UNLV to a 21.4 (3-for-14) percent three-point mark and forced the Runnin' Rebels into 19 turnovers. UNLV shot just 25-for-40 from the free throw line.
Cal Poly concludes its two-game, season-opening road trip at UCLA on Sunday, Nov. 13. Tip time inside Pauley Pavilion, with action televised live on Pac-12 Network, is 7 p.m. The Bruins fell in overtime on Friday in their season opener at home to Monmouth, 84-81.
A Nwaba jumper helped Cal Poly to its first lead of the season at 6-5 four minutes into action before UNLV compiled a 9-2 run. Facing a six-point deficit, however, Cal Poly received an Awich three-pointer, a Nwaba layup and two free throws by freshman guard Jaylen Shead to tie the matchup at 15-15 midway through the half.
The two programs traded the lead four times during a five-minute span before the Runnin' Rebels sank seven free throws to match their largest lead of the half at 32-26 with four minutes remaining.
Cal Poly – which forced UNLV into 10 first-half turnovers and held the Runnin' Rebels to a 10.0 (1-for-10) percent three-point mark to start the game – responded by squaring the matchup on three separate occasions before a Morgan three-pointer a minute prior to the break placed the Mustangs in a 38-35 lead. Senior forward Brian Bennett sank a jumper on the next possession and, despite a late layup by Seagears, Cal Poly took a 40-37 lead into halftime.
In holding Cal Poly to a 0-for-5 start from the floor to begin the second half, UNLV quickly extinguished Cal Poly's lead with a 12-0 run out of halftime. Bennett finally snapped Cal Poly's drought with a jumper before UNLV guard Patrick McCaw handed the Runnin' Rebels a 52-42 lead with a three-pointer.
Still trialing 54-44 with 12-and-a-half to play, Cal Poly received a Sutlive three-pointer to claw back to a single-digit deficit. UNLV, however, answered by scoring eight of the game's next 10 points to extend its advantage to the 62-49 edge with nine minutes left.