‘Runners basketball prepares for Sin City

By Chris Burdick, Assistant Sports Editor

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Championship week is upon us. As the CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners are looking to bring the Western Athletic Conference Tournament Championship trophy home from Las Vegas, like they did in the 2016 season.

The Roadrunners have had a rollercoaster of a year in the 2018 season.

With key players like redshirt-Sophomore forward Taze Moore and Senior guard Damiyne Durham injured for the majority of the season, it has been difficult for the full team to get a chance to play together for multiple games.

Despite the injuries, CSUB was able to start out the regular season strong with a 12-4 record in the regular season, including an impressive 8-0 home record, until finally losing their first home game to Grand Canyon University 72-59 on Feb. 2.

Since that loss against GCU, the team has gone on a considerable losing streak, only winning 1 of their last 9 games. The Roadrunners have fallen from a three-way tie for first place in the conference to fifth place coming into the championship week. CSUB finished with a regular season record of 16-14 and a conference record of 7-9.

The team took some tough losses in the second half of the season, including a tough one-point loss at the buzzer to the number one seeded New Mexico State University and a considerable 72-58 loss to California Baptist University on Senior night in the Icardo Center.

“I thought it was a wake-up call,” Coach Barnes said about the Senior night loss to CBU. “It changed out sense of urgency, that the season is coming to an end and we have to take our business seriously. That’s just the approach of our team.”

Coach Barnes also commented that the loss to CBU has caused a spark in leadership from the team’s seniors: Rickey Holden, Damiyne Durham, James Suber and Bray Barnes. The CSUB seniors are being more vocal leaders in practice before their final WAC tournament in hopes that they can win the WAC conference championship and make it to the NCAA Tournament on March 19.

“We’re feeling better because we are playing better than we did before. We may have come up short verses GCU, but we feel we are in a good place right now.” Senior guard Rickey Holden said about the team’s mentality coming into the tournament, “We all want a ring at the end of the day.”

Last season, the CSUB Roadrunners came into the WAC tournament as the seventh seed and lost in the first round to the number two seed, Utah Valley University, 81-74. This was despite a solid performance from now senior guard Damiyne Durham who put up 29 total points.

Coach Barnes says it is because of that experience behind the loss from last year that drives the team to make it back to the finals like they did in the 2017 season. Barnes said that the loss to Utah Valley last year “brings a different hunger” to this year’s team.

“We’re coming into this year more experienced,” sophomore guard Jarkel Joiner said. “Coming into my second year with more experience and everybody is playing together, we’re getting stronger as a group I think.”

In last year’s first round WAC tournament loss, Joiner came off the bench as a freshman and contributed with nine points in his 19 total minutes played. This season, Joiner has made his mark on the team and the conference, taking the starting guard spot and leading the team in minutes played and points per game.

Joiner is the only player to start every game this season averaging 32 minutes per game for the Roadrunners and lead the team in scoring, averaging 16.4 points. Something that has not been done since former guard and CSUB’s all-time leading scorer Stephon Carter.

The Roadrunners have the mentality to approach every regular season game this season like they are all as important as a WAC Tournament game, and that has led to one central goal for the season, win the conference and make it back to the NCAA March Madness Tournament.

“We talk about it all year,” Coach Barnes said. “It’s not something I try to hype up but it’s where we want our program to be.”

CSUB will enter the WAC Tournament as the fifth seed and will take on the number four seeded University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley. Last time these two teams met was on Feb. 9, when the

Roadrunners took a close five-point overtime loss to the Vaqueros at the Icardo Center.

The game is scheduled for tip-off at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 14 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.