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2014 Big West Tournament Final: Cal Poly Outlasts Cal State Northridge 61-59

They say defense wins champions, but what about a tourney surge after a poor season? Cal Poly is going to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in their Division I history.

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Cal Poly is going dancing.

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is going dancing, with a 13-19 record.

Cal Poly Pomona is going dancing too, but this is not about them (sorry Division II guys, the site is not called Wee-Major Madness)

After an abysmal season where the defense was great, but the offense could not get going numerous times; Cal Poly used that defense to their advantage.  And they did so against the team who struggled against good defenses: Cal State Northridge.

Cal Poly started the game extremely cold, making 3-18 FG to start the game.  They recovered by the end of the half however, thanks to the Matadors cold spell of their own to finish the half.  Stephen Maxwell dominated on the scoreboard leading the way with 13 points in the half.  Meanwhile, Stephan Hicks battled on the boards, collecting 9 rebounds in the first half.

Chris Eversley led the way in the first half for the Mustangs with 9 points, but Cal Poly struggled at the charity line, making 2-7 free throws, which kept the Matadors in the lead.  With the score being 29-25 at halftime, the Mustangs had to make the proper adjustments to stop the Matadors.

In the second half, the Mustangs shut down Maxwell and forced Hicks and others to step up the scoring.  In the meantime, Ridge Shipley and Dave Nwaba joined Eversley in the onslaught of clock killing, methodical basketball.  It is hard to stop a team when they are making 60% of their shots in a half; but it is even harder to stop them when they are taking their time against an up-paced team.

The second half was characterized by lead changes: 8 of them to be exact.  With 1:10 left, Nwaba sank a couple free throws to cut the deficit to two.  Missed and rushed opportunities led to the exciting last seconds of the game.

Cal Poly's Ridge Shipley hit a huge three with 13 seconds left.  The Matadors inbounded and drove hard to the line, but Kyle Odister was there to sell the charge against Tre' Hale-Edmerson, who fouled out.  Free throws, a missed last chance at the buzzer and Mustang history was made.  A quick fun fact: if Odister had not missed his final free throw, Cal Poly would have beat Northridge yet again, by scoring only 62 points.

Eversley led the way with 18 points for Cal Poly, followed by Nwaba (17 points, 7-8 FG) and Shipley (14 points).  For the Matadors, Maxwell scored 18 points, followed by Josh Greene with 12 points and Stephan Hicks, who had a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds.

This game may not be memorable except for the last minute, but that's fine with Cal Poly.  The polytechnic university, located just miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, in an agricultural town that has population of over 45,000, is going dancing for the first time in their Division I history.  Despite the ups and downs (and there were a fair amount of downs this season), the Mustangs pulled themselves together at the right time to hang around in the Big West Tournament and steal the victory and the automatic bid.

Shall we dance?