The dream of back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances died on March 11, 2017, but Cal State Bakersfield and head coach Rod Barnes still did something no team had ever done before.
The Roadrunners, regular season WAC champions, used their automatic bid to the NIT to advance all the way to New York City to play in the semifinals. In doing so CSUB became the first ever 8 seed to make it to Madison Square Garden. (The NIT started seeding the tournament a little over a decade ago.)
Unfortunately for the Roadrunners their dream run through California, Colorado State and UT Arlington ended with a 76-61 loss to Georgia Tech at MSG on Tuesday night.
Senior guard Dedrick Basile led the Roadrunners with 18 points. After hot shooting (including 51% from three) carried CSUB through the first three rounds they shot just 8-23 (35%) from distance against the Yellow Jackets.
Georgia Tech also seemed prepared for CSUB’s hard-nosed defensive style of play. The Yellow Jackets committed only seven turnovers.
“For us to only have seven turnovers against that tough, hardnosed defense that they play is a credit to our guys,” said GT head coach Josh Pastner.
It was definitely because of preparation. Quinton Stephens, who scored 13 points and grabbed 9 rebounds, said that Tech went straight from stretching to press break during practice to help prep for the Roadrunners’ aggressive defense. Freshman forward Josh Okogie was particularly impressive scoring 22 points on 7-18 shooting, and grabbing 9 rebounds.
Georgia Tech, a team that was solidly on the NIT bubble, has benefitted from a rash of upsets and Indiana passing on a home game to make a run all the way to the finals on Thursday night. Nobody expected the Yellow Jackets to be 21-15 this season. Some national pundits were even predicting before the season that Pastner’s squad would go winless in the ACC. (They went 8-10.) GT, which was ranked 154th on the eve of conference play, has now risen all the way to 77th in KenPom and will play for a title. The NIT has been a blessing for the Yellow Jackets.
“Even with us playing in the NIT, we were excited. We wanted to keep playing,” Pastner said.
CSUB was guaranteed a spot in the NIT due to winning the regular-season title in WAC, but the Roadrunners have also made the most of their experience.
“This has been a great run for our team and for the program,” Basile said. “It’s just great opportunities for us and we just came up short. We would like to win it all, but we just ended up coming up short.”
“It’s been great to be with these guys and the coaching staff,” said Jaylin Airington, who scored 12 points. “It’s a great time on the road. We’ve been on the road a lot, and we’re used to it. I’m sad to have it come to an end tonight, but I love these guys and we just enjoyed the moment and enjoyed the process of the season.”
The run has also helped bring CSUB’s name to a national audience. Barnes was the National Coach of the Year with Ole Miss back in 2001 and he’s done a great job building up CSUB, which didn’t even have a conference when he first took the job back in 2011.
“I think people realize who we are now,” Barnes said. “As I told our team, to win almost 50 games in two years is something special. I think people realize now that we’re building a program. That’s where we started six years ago and I think now on a national level people are starting to realize we’ve got a pretty good program here at Bakersfield.”