ARLINGTON, Texas – One day after the 20th anniversary of CSU Bakersfield’s third NCAA Division II National Championship, the Roadrunner men’s basketball team added another postseason victory to its resume, this time to advance to the semifinals of the National Invitational Tournament. CSUB jumped out to a big lead and outlasted UT Arlington on the road to take the win, 80-76.
“I thought our kids followed the script,” said Head Coach Rod Barnes. “We came out and played great defense and shot the ball well. [UT Arlington] have a really good team and responded, but we were able to hold them off.”
When asked about the NIT semifinal to be played in New York City, N.Y., Coach Barnes did not hold back: “I’m as excited as our kids! I have never coached in Madison Square Garden. We’re just excited, blessed, and thankful.”
In the first half, the ‘Runners went on an 8-0 run to take a 13-7 lead over the Mavericks. UTA clawed back to within two points, trailing CSUB 19-17 with less than 10 minutes to play in the half.
In the final six minutes of the first period, the ‘Runners surged and extended their lead all the way into the locker room. After sinking a leaning three-pointer at the buzzer, Dedrick Basile gave CSUB a 45-29 advantage at the half.
CSUB used both inside presence and deadly shooting from behind the arc to build its first-half lead. Redshirt senior Matt Smith converted on 4-of-6 field goals, including a pair of dunks, on the way to nine points while the squad went 8-for-11 from three-point range. Redshirt sophomore Damiyne Durham led the ‘Runners with 12 points on four threes and seven rebounds while redshirt senior Jaylin Airington added eight points and Basile chipped in six.
In the second half, the ‘Runners continued to shoot well and extended their lead to as many as 20 points at 52-32, but a three-pointer by UTA's Faith Pope with 12:02 to go capped a 13-4 run and drew the Mavs within 11 points.
With 10:29 remaining, a made free throw by Jorge Bilbao made it a 10-point game, but for the second straight run, junior Shon Briggs sank a jump shot to end the UTA run. Briggs went on to sink three free throws to push the ‘Runner lead back out to 63-48 with 9:19 remaining.
CSUB began to feel the weight of foul trouble in the final 10 minutes of the game as junior center Moataz Aly fouled out while Smith sat out with four fouls. Airington picked up his fourth foul with just under seven minutes to go and would foul out later in the period as the Mavs continued to climb back into the game.
A three-pointer by guard Erick Neal with 5:46 to go pulled the Mavs within eight points at 67-59, the closest UTA had been since the first half. Less than a minute later, Jorge Bilbao’s layup made it a six-point game before Basile sunk a pair of free throws and Briggs hit another jumper to push the ‘Runner lead back out to 10 points, 71-61.
Unwilling to go down quietly, Neal carried the Mavs on his back, scoring 11 points in the final two minutes and 16 seconds to put pressure on the ‘Runners. Back-to-back three pointers by Neal cut the CSUB lead to just three points with 24 seconds to go. With six seconds remaining, Neal hit a pair of free throws, making the score 78-76.
Basile was fouled on the inbounds and sank both free throws to put the ‘Runners ahead by four points. UTA put up one final desperation shot and missed as CSUB held on to earn the 80-76 road victory. With the win, the 'Runners became the first No. 8 seed to ever advance to the NIT semifinals. Meanwhile, CSUB improved to 25-9 and its 25 wins on the season is a new team Division I record and the most since the ‘Runners went 25-3 in the 1997-98 season.
Georgia Tech (20-15) defeated Ole Miss, 74-66, on Mar. 21 and will meet the Roadrunners (25-9) at Madison Square Garden. The NIT semifinal games are scheduled for Tuesday, Mar. 28, at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. (ET) and will be aired live on ESPN. CSUB’s game time will be announced sometime in the near future.