By Esteban Ramirez
Senior Staff Writer
A scene not too common at CSU Bakersfield.
CSUB held a rally in front of the Icardo Center, which was packed with dozens of students, staff and fans to welcome back the men’s basketball team Thursday, after the Roadrunners clinched a spot in the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament in New York City.
The team got off the bus to cheers from the crowd and music by the pep band, as the players and coaches were congratulated for their accomplishments.
“It’s crazy,” said redshirt-senior forward Jaylin Airington. “To see how far we have come, I’m just happy to be a part of it.”
Senior guard Dedrick Basile shared in the sentiment.
“It’s just an amazing feeling,” Basile said. “I feel like we won the WAC championship all over again.”
The Roadrunners returned to campus after being on the road since Sunday, March 19. CSUB beat Colorado State University 81-68 on March 20. Then, the Roadrunners hit the road to Texas, where they defeated the University of Texas at Arlington 80-76 Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the NIT.
“It’s exciting for everyone to be here and supporting us to show their appreciation for what our guys did,” said CSUB coach Rod Barnes. “
The win against UTA clinched a spot in the semifinals in Madison Square Garden for the Roadrunners.
“My last memory [of Madison Square Garden] was of [NBA player] Kemba Walker. He hit that step back and the Mecca just went crazy, so I can’t wait to play there and see how it is,” said Airington.
CSUB led UTA by as much as 20 points, but the Mavericks chipped away at the lead in the second half.
UTA cut the lead to 78-76 with 6 seconds remaining, but a Basile hit two big shots to give CSUB the win.
Last year, Basile hit a game-winner to send the team to the NCAA tournament. This year, he hit two clutch free throws to send them to Madison Square Garden.
“I just know my team believed in me that I was going to make the two free throws,” said Basile. “I just did my best to try to get us back here with a ‘W.’”
Barnes said they knew Basile would knock the free throws down.
“We knew we had the right person at the right time,” said Barnes.
CSUB alumnus and center from last year’s team Aly Ahmed said this run has been more impressive than last season’s run to the NCAA tournament.
“I think it’s more impressive them making it to the final four of the NIT, which I think is a harder tournament,” said Ahmed. “Teams are fighting more for a better position or to be more in the picture.”
Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh attended the rally and said she is proud of what the team has accomplished.
“I’m so proud of our CSUB Roadrunners,” Goh said. “Bakersfield is on the map and will continue to do that. Our guys have worked so hard. Coach Barnes has worked so hard, and we are rejoicing as a community.”
Loan officer Robin Rossi, 55, was excited to see the team back.
“I’m still living on a high from last night, and I had tears of joy. I’m excited for these guys. They’ve put their heart and soul into this,” said Rossi. “They have meant so much. People are talking about CSUB and Bakersfield. This is a big deal, and it’s all because of the success from our athletes.”
CSUB Counseling Center Coordinator Janet Millar said it is incredible how far program has come in a short time.
“It is so exciting,” Millar said. “I started my education here in 1972, and to see where we have come in this amount of time is so fabulous.”
Now, the Roadrunners will get ready for their matchup against Georgia Tech in the Big Apple.
Despite the distractions and the big stage that awaits his team, Barnes said he knows the players can handle it.
“I think [the players] are showing improvement that they have the right kind of focus in situations,” said Barnes.
CSUB became the first eighth seed in the tournament to make it to the semifinals in New York.
“It’s crazy,” said Airington. “We’re doing something special and doing something for the city of Bakersfield and the program. This has been great, and I’m loving the ride. I don’t want it to end yet.”
CSUB is scheduled to play Georgia Tech at 4 p.m. in Madison Square Garden. The winner of that game will then face the winner between the University of Central Florida and Texas Christian University.