Senior Staff Writer
The bright lights of New York City await the CSU Bakersfield men’s basketball team.
The Roadrunners beat the University of Texas at Arlington 80-76 Wednesday, March 22, becoming the first eighth-seeded team in the National Invitation Tournament to qualify for the semifinals in Madison Square Garden.
“It’s amazing and still hard to take in, but it’s probably going to hit us when we get back to Bakersfield,” said junior forward Shon Briggs on advancing to the semifinals. “That’s a big place to play at and a lot of legends have played there. We are all just excited to get there.”
CSUB coach Rod Barnes said he is excited for his team.
“I’m so happy for our kids because they wanted this win so bad,” said Barnes. “They deserve it. All yearlong they have been challenged to be winners and tonight they proved that.”
For the third straight game, the Roadrunners’ offense came out red-hot and hitting on all cylinders.
CSUB jumped out to an early lead. Redshirt-sophomore guard Damiyne Durham continued his hot shooting from beyond the three-point line as he knocked down a three-pointer to give the Roadrunners a 19-14 lead early in the contest.
UTA responded and cut the lead to 22-20 thanks to a triple from senior guard Drew Charles.
However, the Roadrunners offense kept things rolling, going on a 10-2 run as Durham canned another three-pointer to push the lead to 32-22 with five minutes remaining in the first half.
CSUB continued its strong start by ending the first half on a 23-9 run. The Roadrunners went into halftime with a 45-29 lead.
CSUB shot 50 percent in the first half, while UTA shot 36.7 percent.
The Roadrunners continued to increase their lead to start the second half. Briggs knocked down two free throws with 17 minutes left to give the Roadrunners a 52-32 lead, which was the biggest lead of the game.
However, the Mavericks began to chip away at the lead. They went on a 13-4 run, which was capped off by a three-pointer from senior forward Faith Pope.
CSUB responded with a jumper by Briggs from the baseline to push the lead up to 58-45 with 11:36 remaining.
The Mavericks got the lead down to 67-61 after a layup from senior forward Jorge Bilbao.
Two free throws from senior guard Dedrick Basile and a tough, fallaway jumper from Briggs put the lead back to 10, as the Roadrunners took a 71-61 lead with less than four minutes left.
But the Mavericks didn’t go away.
They continued to cut into the lead. CSUB was holding onto a 77-71 lead with 33 seconds left.
“We knew they were going to come on a run, but we stayed together and kept our composure,” said Briggs.
A three-pointer and two free throws from UTA’s junior guard Erick Neal cut the lead to 78-76 with 6 seconds remaining.
That set the stage for Basile to once again make some big shots and give CSUB another historic win.
He made two free throws to close out the game.
Briggs said he knew Basile was going to knock down the free throws.
“We just looked at each other and told each other that we were going to the Garden and we just knew it was time,” said Briggs.
Not only did this win clinch CSUB’s spot in New York, but the Roadrunners also handed the Mavericks their first home loss of the season.
They also earned their first win ever against the Mavericks.
“This was just an awesome, awesome win for us,” said CSUB coach Rod Barnes. “Three straight games on the road against great competition.”
CSUB shot 47.9 percent from the floor, while holding UTA to 35.5 percent.
The Roadrunners’ bench played a pivotal role in the win as they outscored the Mavericks’ bench, 41-19.
That bench was led by Briggs, who finished with 19 points and 4 rebounds.
“My team knew what I was capable of, and they’ve just been waiting for me to contribute in a better way,” said Briggs. “I try to go out there and play the point, but they tell me to go out there and stay aggressive. My team gives me confidence and I just go out there and play my game.”
Durham also put up 18 points off the bench with 12 coming in the first half.
Houston native Basile ended with 14 points 4 assists.
CSUB Athletics Director Kenneth Siegfried said it feels fantastic seeing the team making it to the semifinals.
“What feels the greatest is the fact that I can watch our student athletes and the experience that they are getting right now, knowing that they are going to have lifelong memories,” Siegfried said. “It’s great knowing that our fans are watching back home and even people on campus are able to cheer on our team and have that sense of pride about our university and our athletics program. You can’t really beat that. It’s a great time.”
He added Barnes just knows how to keep the team motivated even after losing in the Western Athletic Conference tournament.
“Coach Barnes continues to do a fantastic job of putting our student athletes first, and in return they are putting this program first and playing very well,” said Siegfried.
CSUB is scheduled to play Georgia Tech at Madison Square Garden Tuesday, March 28.
The winner of that game will play in the finals of the NIT against the winner of the University of Central Florida and Texas Christian University Thursday, March 30 in Madison Square Garden.