ST. LOUIS (AP) - For Cal Poly, the highlight of the day came before tip-off when a famous alum dropped by the locker room.
“Ozzie Smith told us we’d already won from a mental standpoint,” forward Chris Eversley said after the Mustangs got routed 64-37 by unbeaten Wichita State in the Midwest Regional on Friday night. “We played our butts off, nobody expected us to be in this position.”
Guard Kyle Odister posed for a photo with the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame shortstop and got an autograph.
“It was an honor to meet a Hall of Fame legend in St. Louis,” Odister said. “It would have been nice to get a win, though.”
It provided another lasting memory from a postseason surge that made the Mustangs (14-20) the only sub-.500 team in the field.
Coach Joe Callero didn’t mind Smith sitting in on final pre-game preparations.
“He said, ‘Let me get out of your hair,’” Callero said. “I said, ‘You can stick around a little it. It’s cool.”
Much better than the game.
Cleananthony Early had 23 points and Wichita State faced no resistance, going to 35-0 for the best start in NCAA history.
Cal Poly (14-20) won the Big West tournament as the No. 7 seed and beat Texas Southern in a First Four game before being held to a season low for points.
“As the shot clock goes down, they get stronger,” Eversley said. “They forced us into bad shots, they showed why they’re a great team.”
Malik Love led the Mustangs with nine points. Eversley, the Big West tourney MVP, was held to six points on 2-for-14 shooting.
“It’s a pretty tough one to swallow, but we had a good run, a good season,” Love said. “This is something that I’ll be thinking about for the rest of my life.”
Cal Poly managed 13 points in the first half and shot 21 percent.
“If we’re going to go down in that fashion, I’d rather go down to a team that plays that well defensively,” guard Jamal Johnson said. “On defense, they were the most dominant team we’ve played so far.”
Fred VanVleet had eight assists, Ron Baker had seven points and nine rebounds and Kadeem Coleby had four of the team’s six blocks in the Shockers’ 10th consecutive double-digit victory.
There was no suspense as second-ranked Wichita State surpassed the previous best start in 1991 by UNLV. The Runnin’ Rebels went 34-0 before losing to Duke in the national semifinals. The Shockers made the Final Four as a No. 9 seed last year.
Sterner tests loom for Wichita State, with either preseason No. 1 Kentucky or Kansas State the next opponent on Sunday.
Cal Poly was 4-for-28 in the first half got outscored by Early, who had 19 points to help Wichita State take a commanding 32-13 lead.
The Mustangs missed 14 straight shots under suffocating pressure, often settling for out-of-range 3s, and mustered just two free throws before Odister’s 3-pointer ended a drought that lasted more than 11 minutes and made it 21-8.