The journey for Cal State Bakersfield is finally underway.
With a pregame ceremony including a banner and rings for last year’s Western Athletic Conference championship team that reached the National Invitation Tournament semifinals and a season-opening 88-66 win over Whittier College at the Icardo Center, CSUB shifted last season into the past and ushered in a new year.
“A win is always a win,” head coach Rod Barnes said. “We get a chance to move on.”
As a sign of the new times, freshman Jarkel Joiner led the team with 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting and three 3s. Barnes even let him run the point late in the game, but it was just to rest Brent Wrapp and transfer guard Rickey Holden.
“Jarkel is not prepared to run our team, but he can go get baskets,” Barnes said.
Wrapp, a redshirt senior, scored nine points and dished six assists. He’s still recovering from offseason left foot injury that kept him out of practice the majority of the preseason.
Holden scored 11 points in a team-high 31 minutes in his debut.
The Roadrunners have won their last three season openers since losing the first eight of its Division I existence.
When Wrapp lofted an alley-oop pass that center Moataz Aly finished with a slam, the two started a sequence of plays that was most memorable for fans. Joiner followed it up with a poked steal and two-handed layup.
Whittier, a Division III team, tried to get off a quick score in transition but Aly blocked the layup hard off the backboard.
The highlight-reel plays and 20-point lead shoved a shaky start into the backs of the fans’ minds.
Twenty-five minutes earlier, the Poets swished two straight 3s and took a 6-0 lead to start the game. CSUB’s offense over-committed with help defense on drives through the lane, leading to open shooters behind the 3-point line. Whittier’s offense spread out the Roadrunners with four or five players around the arc at most times.
“It’s a new team,” Barnes said. “We got things that we’re still working on. … They have to realize they got to set the tone for us.”
CSUB was saved by 15 Poets fouls in the first half leading to 13-of-16 shooting from the line.
“What are you doing?” Barnes yelled as he charged onto the court with about six minutes left in the half. “Show up.”
Wrapp immediately sunk two free throws to tie the game for the first time since it was 0-0 and then Wrapp fed Aly for a one-handed slam. The dunk gave CSUB its first lead of the game at 24-22 with 5:40 left in the first half.
Eventually the shooters stopped streaming open. Stagnant starting center Fallou Ndoye was replaced with a more active Aly. The latter finished with 15 points, four blocks and six rebounds. He dunked easily over the much smaller Whittier defenders.
“I was just going hard most of the time,” Aly said. “I was trying to crash the boards. I was trying to score every ball they were passing to me.”
Damiyne Durham was just 3-from-10 from beyond the arc and Shon Briggs was only 4-for-11 from the floor. CSUB turned the ball over 16 times. Durham’s highlight came on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the first half that ended the half on a higher note than it began.
“It’s a long process,” Wrapp said. “We just got to fall in love with the process of getting better every single day and we’re gonna be where we want to be at the end of March.”