ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) - Cal Poly completed its improbable march to the school’s first Big West Tournament championship with the most unlikely of scenarios - a freshman hitting a go-ahead 3-pointer in the final seconds.
Reserve guard Ridge Shipley connected from the top of the key with 13.7 seconds left, and the seventh-seeded Mustangs pulled out a 61-59 victory over Cal State Northridge on Saturday night to put fifth-year coach Joe Callero’s team into the NCAA tourney for the first time in school history.
“Just being able to do that for my teammates means the most to me,” Shipley said. “It doesn’t mean as much to me personally - but as a team, it got us the victory. I’m having a blank memory on it now. I’ve been dreaming about that kind of shot for a while. I’m not too sure what happened on the play. I just know I shot it and made it. My teammates and the coaching staff having faith is what made it for me.”
Shipley scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half, Chris Eversley had a team-high 18 and Dave Nwaba added 17. Eversley was named tournament MVP, the first player from his school to receive that honor.
“It wouldn’t have been possible without my teammates. Without their contribution, we wouldn’t have been in that position,” Eversley said. “It’s a testament to what these guys do - emotional stamina and mental toughness. It started with the coaching staff and the guys we brought in - guys that were willing to buy into our program both offensively and defensively.”
Cal Poly (13-19) became the lowest seed to win the title in the tournament’s 39-year history. San Jose State was seeded sixth when the Aztecs prevailed 76-75 in overtime against fourth seed Utah State in 1996. That was the only other time a team won the tournament with a losing record (13-16).
“This was surreal. The day was as perfect as it could be,” said Callero, whose team committed just 18 turnovers in the three games.
Cal Poly also was the lowest-seeded team in the history of the tournament to eliminate both the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, and the lowest-seeded team to play for the Big West crown since 1994, when 10th-seeded UC Irvine lost to No. 1 New Mexico State.
The Mustangs are the lowest seed to win a tournament game in any conference so far. The previous low was fifth-seeded Milwaukee in the Horizon League, beating top seed Green Bay in overtime a week earlier during their semifinals.
This also was the first time that none of the top four seeds played in the Big West title game, and only the second time in the last 14 years that one of the top three seeds didn’t win it.
This was the third time each school made it to the championship game. The Mustangs lost to Utah State in 2003 and Long Beach State in 2007. The Matadors lost to Pacific in 2004, then turned the tables on the Tigers in 2009 for coach Bobby Braswell.
Stephen Maxwell scored 18 points for Northridge (17-18), which lost all three meetings with Cal Poly. The Matadors, playing their first season under head coach Reggie Theus, began the tournament with an 87-84 overtime victory over fourth seed Hawaii, then beat third-seeded Long Beach State 82-77.
“They played a well-coached game and they made shots down the stretch. But I’m really proud of our guys and the effort,” Theus said. “Nobody thought we would be here. I’m very proud that we had an opportunity to potentially go to the NCAAs and came within a basket of making it. That motivation should start us off next year.”
The Mustangs came to Honda Center having lost nine of their previous 11 games before routing second seed UC Santa Barbara 69-38 on Thursday afternoon - the fewest points allowed in this tournament since Utah State beat Pacific 50-38 in the 2001 title game.
They followed that with Friday night’s 61-58 decision over top-seeded UC Irvine, the regular-season conference champs and the only school to get to the semifinals with a winning record. It was the first time a No. 7 beat a No.1 in this event.
Cal Poly beat Northridge for the fifth straight time in the 94th meeting between the schools and the first at a neutral site.
“It’s tough because we fought all year,” senior guard Josh Greene said. “Each game to get up to this point was a grind-it-out battle. We just didn’t come up with the win today.”
Maxwell paced Northridge to a 29-25 halftime lead with 13 points, including a layup that gave the Matadors their biggest lead, 19-8. They were 1 for 7 on 3-pointers and 3 for 26 from behind the arc in their three games against Cal Poly - including Jan. 16, when they failed to make one for the only time this season and were 0 for 8 in a 62-52 road loss.
Cal Poly scored the first six points of the second half to turn a four-point deficit into a 31-29 lead, the Mustangs’ first of the game. The lead changed hands three more times before Shipley hit a baseline jumper and a 3-pointer 45 seconds apart to put the Mustangs back in front 50-49 with 5:29 to play.
Northridge and Cal Poly also went head-to-head in the women’s championship game several hours earlier, with Northridge winning 73-58 to earn the second NCAA tournament berth in its 23-year history as a Division I program. The other was as a member of the Big Sky Conference in 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.