By Daniel Tapia, Nov. 15, 2022

On Nov. 11, Cal Poly Pomona’s men’s basketball team opened their 2022-2023 season on the road against Azusa Pacific University in the 2022 Cougar Classic tournament, falling short by a final score of 60-54.

Entering this season with only a handful of returners makes it anyone’s guess as to who will step up to lead the newcomers. Losing four starters is never easy, but this energetic group of Broncos showed an attitude to compete and lots of promise once they settled into the game.

“For a lot of guys this is their first college game,” said Greg Kamansky. “We were a lot more aggressive on the defensive end, and although we didn’t make many shots, it still gives you hope of what’s to come.”

Daniel Tapia | The Poly Post

The Broncos turned to sophomore guard Jaden Winfield to keep them in the fight as he finished with 18 points, four rebounds, two steals and one block. Winfield talked about the possibility of stepping into the leadership role that head coach Kamansky is looking for.

“It’s an everyday thing,” said Winfield. “I’m a returner, so being a leader will be new to me. Every day in practice I got to keep being vocal, and we’ll take it a day at a time.”

The first half started with each team exchanging baskets back and forth, but Winfield got hot, racking up eight points through 10 minutes, prompting a Cougar timeout. Out of the timeout, the Cougars separated themselves, capitalizing off Bronco turnovers and misses.

Once the flip was fully switched, it was all Cougars from there on out as they closed the first half on an 18-8 run.

The Broncos shot only 28% from the field and went 0/11 from three. The Cougars did not miss much in those first 20 minutes as they finished shooting 58% from the field and 40% from three-point land, which built their 40-24 halftime lead.

Guard Christopher Mitchell spoke about the adjustments needed while headed into the second half.

“In the first half we were pointing the finger and getting after each other,” said Mitchell. “We had to come together, be more vocal and work as a team.”

The message was clear at halftime when the Bronco offense started to click. With back-to-back blocks from Winfield and forward Caleb Nelson, the Broncos started to make their run, making three consecutive baskets, cutting the score to 42-30.

The Cougars tried to get back in rhythm, but the added defensive intensity from the Broncos left them rattled.

Guard Shyheim Parm finished the game with four steals, wreaking havoc by constantly jumping passing lanes. With 14 minutes left, Parm grabbed back-to-back steals, leading to four easy points, and cut the score down to 44-39, causing another Cougar timeout.

“Shy is really good because he’s deceptively long and athletic with good anticipation,” said Kamansky. “He’s really gonna be key for us to create turnovers.”

The timeout wouldn’t stop the Broncos’ momentum, as forward Malachi Murrell drove downhill to convert an and-one opportunity that brought the Bronco bench to their feet with excitement. This capped off an impressive 16-4 CPP run with the score now 44-42 with 12 minutes left.

The Cougars would slowly get back in their groove, slightly extending their lead at some points, but the Broncos would not go away.

Down six, Mitchell checked back into the game with eight minutes left looking to give the Broncos a chance. Mitchell answered the call and scored the next six out of eight CPP points to tie the game at 50 apiece with four minutes left.

Azusa replied with their own counterpunch when Cougar forward Ken West drilled a three to bring the Felix Center back to life. West gave the APU crowd a much-needed jolt with his timely shots all night as his final bullet shot down the chance at a Bronco victory.

Ultimately, the Broncos fought hard but were unable to hold off the Cougars dropping their season opener, 60-56.

“For a lot of young players this is their first college game, so they have to learn how to fight first before learning how to become basketball players at this level,” said Kamansky.

The Broncos cap off the Cougar Classic with a game against Seattle Pacific University before coming back home for their own Bronco Classic game versus Biola University on Friday, Nov. 18 at 4:30 p.m.

For more information on upcoming games, visit the BroncoAthletics website, and for streaming these events, visit the California Collegaite Athletic Association Network.

Feature image by Daniel Tapia

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