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Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

CSUB guard Issiah Grayson brings the ball down court against Occidential's Joe Compagno during an exhibition game Nov. 2 at The Icardo Center.

Opening night is special, no matter the sport. Especially when a team is in familiar surroundings.

"It's going to feel good playing in front of the home crowd," said Cal State Bakersfield senior guard Zach Lamb.

Senior guard Issiah Grayson, who missed last season while recovering from knee surgery, added, "It's real special. I've been waiting all year for this."

The Roadrunners (0-1), coming off a season-opening 62-56 loss at Washington State on Friday, play host to UC Merced (0-2) at 7 tonight in the Icardo Center.

"One of our goals this year is to defend our home floor, to go undefeated, and hopefully we can do that," said CSUB coach Rod Barnes.

It's a whirlwind first week for CSUB, which also has a home game Wednesday against Sacramento State.

"Our coaches have been working on game plans," Barnes said.

It was a frustrating game at Washington State for CSUB. The Roadrunners lost it at the foul line, hitting only 11 of 28 free throws while Washington State was 28 of 43.

"Free throws hurt us too much tonight," Barnes said a few minutes after Friday's game ended. "Obviously we're disappointed."

CSUB trailed 28-25 at halftime and ran into a cold spell when the Cougars went on a 15-2 spurt in the second half to build a 52-39 lead.

But the Roadrunners rallied to within 58-56 on Abdul Ahmed's 3-pointer with 1:36 left. But Washington State sank some free throws after that to put it away.

UC Merced, an NAIA school that opened in 2005, plays in the California Pacific Conference. The school has a goal of joining the NCAA Division II California Collegiate Athletic Association, which included CSUB as a member until the Roadrunners began their move to NCAA Division I status in 2007.

The Bobcats are coming off a 95-64 loss to Fresno Pacific on Saturday, and lost their season opener 72-66 on Tuesday against Notre Dame de Namur.

"It's not about who we're playing," Lamb said. "We're trying to get better each game and make it to the NCAA Tournament."

Said Grayson: "Coach makes sure we maintain the intensity by saying 'if we don't do this (play hard against a weaker opponent), he will bring us back the next morning or that same night.' It's why we don't want to take any opponent for granted."