Every time fans in the Icardo Center heard the words “Madison Square Garden” mentioned in the pregame video shown on the Jumbotron, they burst into its loudest cheers of the night. It was a reminder of the last place the Cal State Bakersfield diehards had seen the Roadrunners play in 2017: the final four of the National Invitation Tournament.
CSUB opened its season with an 88-66 win over the Division III Whittier College Poets on Friday night. Before the official start of the 2017-18 season, the Roadrunners unveiled their Western Athletic Conference regular season championship and NIT semifinal banner from the year prior.
Last season’s players got their WAC rings, including former players Matt Smith and Dedrick Basile.
For CSUB head coach Rod Barnes, it marked another chance to focus on the upcoming year.
“It marks the end of last season,” Barnes said back in early October, as the team opened practice.
For the 2,306 fans in attendance on Friday, it was a fond memory of a historic run.
Tom and Fran Coughlin from Atascadero had their NIT final four shirts on under their dark blazers and picked their seats specifically to get a good view of the pregame festivities.
“I’m really excited,” Tom said before the game. “We’re excited to see them get their rings today.”
The two followed the Roadrunners all the way in the team’s road playoff run. Cal State became the first eight seed to make it to the NIT semifinal round, upsetting top-seeded California along the way.
“For this size school, the community support is just unbelievable,” Fran said.
Fran, who could thoroughly analyze both last year’s and this year’s teams, described the 2016-17 squad as “the little team that could.” She got on the Madison Square Garden Jumbotron celebrating a basket and thinks the grand stage eventually became too much for CSUB’s nerves to handle.
She knows the Roadrunners have talent this season and is excited to see if they can put it all together.
The expectations are as high as ever after the team’s first Western Athletic Conference Tournament championship two years ago and subsequent first NCAA Tournament berth, too.
“It’s gonna be fun,” Fran said.