‘Runners hope intensity continues to increase for WAC tournament

Some+of+the+men%27s+basketball+players+cheering+their+teammates+on+against+Chicago+State.+

Mari Woodmansee

Some of the men's basketball players cheering their teammates on against Chicago State.

Chris Burdick, Co-Sports Editor

  The 2020 season for the CSU Bakersfield men’s basketball program has been a challenge to say the very least.   

  The Roadrunners finished the regular season with an overall record of 12-19 and will enter the Western Athletic Conference tournament as the number seven seed with a final conference record of 6-10.   

  Led in points by redshirt junior guard Taze Moore, the Roadrunners started out great in conference play, winning four of their first five games in exciting fashion. But all that momentum would be short-lived as the struggles began for CSUB, a result of the team losing their next four games to the WAC conference’s top four teams. 

  The team then had its struggles continue during the second half of the season, as they had trouble keeping early offensive momentum going during games. By Feb. 22 the team had lost 7 of their last 8 games, and it was at this point that head coach Rod Barnes was worried about where the team was mentally.  

  Although the team was practicing all they needed to, Barnes knew that the sense of urgency was lacking and the team was having issues offensively. In order to combat this, the team has increased the intensity at practice to create that urgency in-game that Barnes was looking for. 

  In their final three games, the ‘Runners have shown some life and the urgency Barnes was pleading for has shown itself. CSUB put together what coach Barnes said was the team’s best game offensively and defensively all year in their second meeting with the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley. Led by junior forward Shawn Stith’s 21 points, the Roadrunners were able to break through their offensive woes and get some much-needed momentum going before the end of the season. 

  Although the Roadrunners lost the last two games against New Mexico State University and Grand Canyon University, the team looked great defensively and kept both games considerably close thought out.  

  Coach Barnes is pleased with the way his team has finished out the season regardless of the record, but he also knows that the team is still in need of some key pieces to step it up during the team’s final WAC Championship run. 

  “I think Shawn (Stith) is probably the first guy we think of to be that guy, and I’m really hoping that [it is] JD, Justin Edler-Davis, because he has been there and done that. It’s kinda like I said about Grand Canyon, they have guys who have been in the tournament and been successful in the tournament, and a lot of times when you are in tournament play, experience plays a big factor. So I think Justin Davis will show up, and I think he will be comfortable being over there this weekend,” Barnes said. 

  During CSUB’s strong start to the WAC season, redshirt junior forward Justin Edler-Davis was the driving force in the teams 4-1 start. It was during this stretch that Edler-Davis was given the name “The Overlord of Overtime” thanks to his late game heroics in back-to-back overtime victories against the University of Kansas City ‘Roos and the Utah Valley University Wolverines.  

  “I just want to win, ya know? So when it’s winning time in that time of the game I just want to step up, whether that’s getting a rebound or taking a charge or hitting a shot, that’s really what I like to do,” Edler-Davis said. “Whatever I need to do for my team to win, that’s what I’m gonna do in that time.” 

  When asked about the team’s approach to the upcoming WAC Tournament, junior forward Shawn Stith said that the key to success for the Roadrunners is for the entire team to be ready and able to play aggressively. “Our motto is ‘the next man up,’ so everybody on the bench has to be ready to go, so… I mean, we all gotta be bought in defensively.” 

  Both Edler-Davis and Stith seem to be all-in on hard play being what they need to do in order to make some noise in this year’s tournament. 

  “We definitely want to play more aggressive. I don’t think a lot of teams can handle that for forty minutes,” Edler-Davis said. “So if we are pounding the boards, pound the ball inside with Shawn and Ronnie, and then me and Greg can hit shots outside and also get rebounds. I don’t think a lot of teams can handle when we are on like that.” 

  Edler-Davis isn’t wrong. With the way CSUB is set up, not many teams in the WAC can handle the Roadrunners playing at a highly aggressive pace. The question is: can the offense produce consistently when they need to? Edler-Davis believes that every team in the WAC is beatable this year, but each team carries a different challenge for ‘Runners to deal with.  

  Whether it be Rio Grande Valley’s ability to create turnovers or Seattle University’s high scoring offense, Barnes is optimistic the team is ready for the challenges that await the Roadrunners in Sin City. 

  “I think Vegas is gonna be crazy,” Barnes said. “I think it’s gonna be probably more exciting, and there will be more teams that show up that think they can win than has ever been, so that will be interesting to be a part of and see.” 

  The CSUB Roadrunners will be taking on the number two seed UTRGV Vaqueros in the first round of the WAC Tournament at The Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, NV on March 12. The game is scheduled for a 6 p.m. tip-off.