Cal Poly dumps College of Charleston, 73-68, in Great Alaska shootout
The temperatures outside of Alaska Airlines Center might have been hovering around zero degrees Wednesday, but the Cal Poly shooters certainly had the hot hands all afternoon.
Victor Joseph scored 20 points and Jakub Niziol came off the bench to add 15 points as the Mustangs defeated College of Charleston, 73-68, in the opening game of the Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, AK.
The Cougars (2-2) will face the loser of the Central Michigan-Sam Houston State Thanksgiving night at 9:30 p.m. The Mustangs (3-2) will take on the winner of that same game Friday night.
Almost as important as the final outcome, Charleston might be without starting guard Grant Riller, who had been the Cougars’ top scorer so far this season. Riller came into the game averaging more than 19 points a game, but left early in the second half after knee-to-knee collision with a Mustangs’ player as he was driving to the basket. Riller limped back to the Cougars bench, briefly road a stationary bike on the sidelines, but did not return. It had been a rough day already for Riller, who did not have a single point in 22 minutes of action.
The Cougars were already missing forward Jarrell Brantley, a preseason first All-Colonial Athletic Association pick, who is out at least a month with a knee injury.
“The doctors said he bumped knees and I’m not exactly sure what that means or how serious it is,” said College of Charleston coach Earl Grant after the game. “He got up and walked off, so we’ll find out later tonight how he is and how serious the injury is.
“We won’t know if Grant can play tomorrow until we hear from the doctors. Once they tell me how he’s going, I’ll have a better understanding of what’s wrong and make a decision. Hopefully, he’s fine and he’ll be able to play.”
Grant knew the Mustangs relied heavily on their perimeter shooting. The Mustangs connected on 14 of 25 3-pointers over the course of the game. Joseph, Niziol and Donovan Fielders were a combined 12 of 16 from 3-point range.
“I knew coming into the game they could make threes and that was a big concern for us,” Grant said. “We knew we had to take away the three and they made 14 threes and shot 50 percent from three. So anytime you shoot like that it’s going to be pretty hard to overcome.”
The 6-7 Niziol was a perfect 5 for 5 from long range. The Wroclaw, Poland native hit four straight threes during a four-minute stretch midway through the second half when the Cougars were making a push to get back into the game.
“We knew he could shoot, it was in our scouting report that he’s a really good 3-point shooter,” Grant said. “We wanted to make him dribble. He made five threes, so he had a good night. The key for us was trying to take away their 3-point shooting and they did a great job of finding the open shooter and knocking down those shots.”
Grant, for one, wasn’t taking the Mustangs lightly despite the fact that they were 11-20 a year ago and picked to finish last in the Big West Conference this year.
“They beat Santa Clara and played California and Stanford pretty tough, so they had some confidence coming in,” Grant said. “I thought they were a good team. I knew they were going to be a challenge.”
Senior guard Joe Chealey, who was coming off a 29-point effort against UNC Charlotte on Saturday, did all he could for the Cougars in the loss. Chealey finished with 26 points, 10 assists and six rebounds.
“Joe played hard, but he always does,” Grant said. “He made some shots and really kept us in the game all night. He did it on Saturday against Charlotte, but it’s going to be hard for him to do that night-in and night-out.”
The two teams exchanged baskets throughout the first half as neither team was able seize control of the game. The Mustangs led 28-27 at halftime.
After a couple of free throws from Chealey to start the second half, the Mustangs started to slowly find their offensive rhythm. Joseph, Donovan and Niziol all his 3-pointers as Cal Poly led, 48-41 with 11:37 to play.
But a 3-pointer from Evan Bailey, who finished with 13 points, a layup from Cameron Johnson and layup from Marquise Pointer during an 11-6 run cut the gap to 54-52 with 7:33 to play.
Charleston actually took the lead, 62-61, on Johnson’s 3-pointer from the corner with 1:51 to play.
The Mustangs answered, scoring 10 unanswered points with Joseph hitting back-to-back threes to highlight the run and grab a 71-62 lead with 24.1 seconds to play.
Johnson finished with 13 points and Pointer added 10 points in the loss.