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Cal Poly Lets 13-Point Lead Slip Away, Falls to UC Riverside, 72-68

Cal Poly Lets 13-Point Lead Slip Away, Falls to UC Riverside, 72-68

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- Cal Poly let a 13-point first-half lead slip away as UC Riverside, behind Taylor Johns' 21 points, rallied for a 72-68 victory in a Big West Conference men's basketball game Thursday night before 2,134 in the Mott Athletics Center.

Jaylen Bland and Secean Johnson each added 15 points for the Highlanders (12-11, 3-4 Big West), who made 50 percent of their floor shots (26 of 52), including six of 11 from three-point range.

Cal Poly (8-11, 2-4 Big West), paced by senior forward Brian Bennett's 21 points, matching his season high and his 10th double-digit scoring game of the season, connected on 56 percent of its second-half floor shots but still was outscored 44-38 after the break.

The Mustangs, held under 70 points for the first time in six Big West games this season, led 23-10 with 9:43 to go in the first half, Luke Meikle capping the early spurt with a three-pointer.

UC Riverside went on an 18-6 run to close to within a point at 29-28 with 2:01 to go as the Highlanders held the Mustangs without a field goal for six minutes. A free throw by Bennett with 29 seconds left gave Cal Poly a 30-28 lead at the break.

Each team held five-point leads early in the second half. The lead changed hands 11 times after the break and the game was tied three times before the Highlanders grabbed the lead for good with a six-point play.

UC Riverside led 69-64 on two free throws by Bland with 2:26 to go after a flagrant foul on David Nwaba and, 10 seconds later, a three-pointer and free throw by Bland.

Cal Poly battled back to within one at 69-68 on two free throws by Bennett (pictured above) with 1:56 to play and a layup by Nwaba with 31 seconds left, but the Mustangs turned the ball over twice and Malik Thames made one of two free throws and Bland added two more charity shots.

Cal Poly outrebounded UC Riverside 31-29, led by Meikle and Josh Martin with five each. Johns grabbed eight boards for the Highlanders.

Nwaba finished with 16 points, four rebounds, two assists and a pair of steals for Cal Poly. It was Nwaba's team-leading 14th double-digit game of the year.

UC Riverside beat Cal Poly in the Mott Athletics Center for the first time in Joe Callero's seven seasons at the helm of the Mustangs, the last Big West team to do so.

Cal Poly made 47 percent of its floor shots for the game (27 of 58), including five of 13 from long range.

The Mustangs play Saturday afternoon at UC Davis, starting at 5:30 p.m. The Aggies improved to 8-11 and 3-3 with a 69-64 win over Cal State Fullerton on Wednesday night.