There have been a lot of “first’s” for CSU Bakersfield over the past 12 months.
You can add another one.
The Roadrunners beat UT-Arlington 80-76 on Wednesday to become the first No. 8 seed to advance to the NIT semifinals. CSUB took a familiar path to get there, building a big halftime lead with hot shooting for the third consecutive game.
Damiyne Durham (18 points) again blistered the nets in the first half, going 4-for-6 from three as the ‘Runners took a 45-29 advantage at the break. This put the Mavericks in the difficult position of having to come back against CSUB’s elite defense, which held Cal and Colorado State to a combined 39.8 percent effective field goal percentage in its first two NIT games.
But the Sun Belt regular season champions were up to the challenge, even if it required some late drama.
Kevin Hervey (15 points, 7-9 FT, 8 rebounds) began to get loose in the second half as UTA chipped away at the lead in front of an energetic College Park Center.
The Mavericks cut the lead to just six with 4:38 remaining, but that momentum was stunted by a flagrant foul on Jorge Bilbao as Dedrick Basile (14 points, 4 assists) streaked down the court after a steal.
UTA also committed two costly offensive fouls in the final four minutes, and were kept at bay by some uncharacteristically solid CSUB free throw shooting. This included another great night from Shon Briggs (19 points, 9-11 FT). The junior forward is shooting 51.5 percent from the line for the year, but has hit 72.4 percent of his 29 attempts in the NIT.
Still, UTA, which hadn’t lost a home game this season, wouldn’t go away.
Two Erick Neal (22 points) three pointers in the final 37 seconds cut the lead to just three. The Mavericks would draw within two with six seconds left, sending Basile to the line for a pair of critical free throws in front of the UTA student section. The CSUB senior hit both, sealing the program’s historic run to New York.
After not winning a postseason game in its first nine seasons as a Division I program, CSUB has won three this year. The ‘Runners 25 wins (and counting) are the program’s most in the Division I era. To put it in perspective, it was just five seasons ago that CSUB was 9-19 and wandering the independent wilderness.
Barnes talked about one of his motivations for taking the job in a phone interview earlier this season.
“I really took this job trying to resurrect my career, to prove I can build a program and that I’m a good coach. I wanted to leave my stamp on a program,” he said.
The trip to New York’s bright lights are just the latest evidence that Barnes has accomplished that mission.
CSUB will play Georgia Tech, which beat Ole Miss on Tuesday night to advance to the semifinals. TCU and Central Florida face off on the other side of the bracket, which can be viewed here.