DAYTON, Ohio -- There’s little worth remembering from the regular season, but Cal Poly is making up for it in the postseason.
The NCAA tournament’s only team with a losing record is sticking around to play again. After winning the Big West Conference crown as a No. 7 seed the Mustangs continuing their hot streak by knocking off Texas Southern.
The Mustangs didn’t even need to sweat it much, building a double-digit halftime lead and never letting the Tigers mount a serious challenge. Keeping its roll going will be much harder against undefeated Wichita State on Friday in St. Louis, but at least it still has a chance to make another memory.
Here are five observations from Cal Poly’s 81-69 victory at UD Arena that sends it into the second round after the first Big Dance win in program history.
The run almost certainly won’t last until the weekend, but the Mustangs might qualify as a Cinderella anyway. After winning just 10 games during the regular season, Cal Poly parlayed some excellent defense with balanced scoring into a surprising Big West Conference tournament championship, and that same formula worked again to knock off Texas Southern for a fourth consecutive postseason victory. The mystery is what's happened to the Mustangs; they won just twice in 11 games to close the regular season, but on Wednesday they looked like they belonged on a Big Dance floor against the Tigers.
Joe Callero’s team seemed overmatched on paper, and on the court Cal Poly had no real answer for Texas Southern standout Aaric Murray. But the Mustangs made up for it with relentless effort, smart decisions with the basketball and sound fundamentals that helped neutralize their physical disadvantage. Cal Poly rarely missed any boxouts in building a 12-point halftime lead, it hit the floor for loose balls and used pump fakes around the rim to get Murray off his feet and open up looks at the rim. Wichita State is going to make life much more difficult on Friday in St. Louis, but the Mustangs appear to know what works for them.
Murray showed off all his impressive tools, and NBA scouts surely will be intrigued by the variety of ways he scored and his athleticism at 6-foot-10. The Tigers didn’t have enough talent around him to give Murray another platform to show off his skills in the NCAA tournament. The senior opened the game by throwing down three dunks to account for the first six points for the Tigers, and made piling up 38 points look easy. The problem was he outscored the rest of his teammates, who collectively scored just 31 points as Texas Southern’s season came to an end.
Chris Eversley played with no shortage of energy, looking plenty fresh despite leading the Mustangs in minutes by a wide margin this season. The senior forward was active on the glass, efficient on the offensive end and never appeared to tire as he led Cal Poly with 19 points and 9 rebounds and was still collecting floor runs deep into the second half.
Few teams in the nation have logged the kind of mileage the Mustangs have this season, and they’re only going to add to the frequent flier miles as they extend their tournament stay with a trip to St. Louis. According to the school, Cal Poly had already covered more than 25,000 miles of travel this season heading into the First Four appearance in Dayton. Even with another quick turnaround, the Mustangs surely won’t mind checking off another destination to cap the season.