LAS CRUCES, N.M. - The end of game play was better for the Roadrunners Thursday night at New Mexico State, but the end-result was eerily similar as the Aggies took advantage of a late CSUB turnover with less than a minute to play to send Bakersfield to an 89-86 loss at the Pan American Center.
The Roadrunners (8-12, 1-6 WAC) battled back from a 13-point second-half deficit to take a six-point lead with just over 6 minutes to play. Unfortunately for Bakersfield, their struggles in the final four minutes would continue as the Aggies closed the game on a 13-6 run, sending CSUB to their fourth-straight loss in WAC play.
“We’re playing better, and as a coach that’s what you want to be doing this time of year,” said head coach Rod Barnes. “I’m proud of the way our kids played, this is a resilient team, they don’t give up, and we just have to find a way to close it out.”
The Roadrunners did manage to go-ahead baskets in in the final three minutes, one a jumper from Stefon Johnson, and the other a free throw from Aly Ahmed (R-Sr., Cincinnati, Ohio, Gardner-Webb) but a Zach Lamb (R-Sr., Norcross, Ga., Miami-Dade CC) turnover while driving to the basket with less than 30 seconds remaining sealed the ‘Runners fate yet again. There were a total of five lead changes in the final four minutes of play.
Bakersfield converted on 37% from the field in the first half creating several transition opportunities for the Aggies who shot 63% in the period and built a 13-point lead. The Roadrunners closed the first-half deficit to two points with 14-3 run with 2:08 to play before allowing the Aggies to close out the half on a 9-0 run to take a 47-36 lead into the half.
The second half was much better for the Roadrunners who shot 50% from the field while keeping NM State at 41%. Bakersfield was balanced again offensively with four players in double digits led by Issiah Grayson (R-Sr., Atlanta, Ga., Southern Idaho CC) who scored 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting while dishing out three assists and three steals.
Grayson was joined by Lamb’s 15 points which included a 9-of-9 night from the free-throw line while Kregg Jones scored a career-high 13 points while pulling down six rebounds on a career-best 6-of-8 from the field. Jones was a spark for the Roadrunners, creating offense off the bench while also blocking two shots in an attempt to offset the size of the Aggies.
“I like where are kids are at, this is the second straight game where we’ve got several guys into double figures,” Barnes said. “We’re closing in on playing the way I like for us to play we just have to keep it up.”
NM State was led by Daniel Mullings’ 19 points while four other Aggies chipped in with double figures including 7’5” center Sim Bhullar who returned from injury to score 13 points on 3-of-3 shooting and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line.
This was Bakersfield’s fourth loss in conference play by three or fewer points. They’ve now lost their six conference games by an average of 4.3 points.
The Roadrunners will return to action Saturday evening as they wrap up the first half of their conference schedule at UT Pan American. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 P.M. (CST).