DAYTON, Ohio — Now that Cal Poly has gotten its first NCAA victory out of the way, why stop at one?
Chris Eversley scored 19 points to help Cal Poly become the first team in 59 years with 19 losses to win an NCAA tournament game, beating Texas Southern 81-69 on Wednesday night in the First Four.
Now the team with the worst record in the tournament (14-19) moves on to face the one with the best — top-seeded Wichita State (34-0) — in the second round in St. Louis on Friday.
It’s exactly what Mustangs coach Joe Callero had hoped.
“I’m so weird that I was cheering the last five years that a 16 (seed) never upsets a 1,” he said. “Because if we ever got a bid, we’d be a 16 seed and then we’d have a chance to make real history.”
They’ve already done that.
The Mustangs were 0-3 and 4-9 early this season. They didn’t exactly inspire confidence heading into the Big West Conference tournament — losing nine of 11 — but they won the title to earn the program’s first NCAA bid.
There have been 23 teams with losing records in the NCAA tournament since 1955. Only three had won in the first/opening round.
The only other 19-loss team to win was Bradley (7-19), which won a game but lost in the final eight in 1955.
David Nwaba added 17 points and Brian Bennett — who was a perfect 5 for 5 from the field — had 10 for the Mustangs. Held back by injuries all season, a team that shot 41 percent from the field for the season saved its best for last by making 57 percent on the biggest stage. The 81 points was its second most in a game all year.
So should Wichita State be worried?
“Wichita State is a great team. They’re a national favorite. They’ve been undefeated all season,” Eversley said after flashing a quick grin when he heard the question.
“We’re going to get on a plane tonight, get to St. Louis, Mo., and just go start on a scouting report and make sure we’re ready for Wichita State — and go out there keep playing the way we’ve been playing.”
Aaric Murray closed out his career with 38 points for Texas Southern (19-15), champs of the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament.
“He was going to get his points either way, so we knew he would just need to take the other players out of the game,” said Nwaba, who got Cal Poly out of the blocks with eight of its first 10 points. “That was our plan going in.”
Cal Poly dominated most of the first half to build a 12-point lead at the break and never let it go.
The Tigers, who had won nine in a row, cut the lead to 73-66 with 2:16 left, but the Mustangs hit 8 of 10 fouls shots over the last 1:42 to seal the deal.
The Mustangs pulled away midway through the opening half.
Cal Poly took the lead for good on Bennett’s slashing move to the hoop.