Rod Barnes and Shon Briggs both saw a glimpse of the past in Fresno on Tuesday night.
Briggs, a senior forward for Cal State Bakersfield, hauled in a missed 3-pointer on the offensive end amid a crowd of players in the first half against Fresno State. He kicked the ball out for another 3 that missed but was there for the board again. This time, he took a hard dribble and converted on a two-handed layup.
That was the Briggs of last year, he and Barnes said. That was what the Roadrunners have been missing.
“Tonight, I thought, was the first night I started to see him back as Shon,” said Barnes, CSUB’s head coach.
Briggs is adjusting from a limited role with less responsibility that he had last season, to the go-to-guy spotlight which is on him now. The key for Briggs is to get back to the way he ended the 2016-17 season, he and Barnes said, and he showed that Tuesday night.
Barnes expects Briggs to be better moving forward and that starts against Pacific Life on Friday at 11 a.m. and in a rematch against Idaho on Saturday at 7 p.m. Both games are in the Icardo Center.
“I just have to come back to my senses,” Briggs said. “Early on (in the season), I wasn’t really doing that.”
Barnes didn’t hide the fact that he expected more from Briggs through the first nine games of the year. If Briggs had been more effective scoring, the team would’ve been more dynamic on offense, Barnes said. But Barnes knew — and still knows — it was a process of “smoothing out” the senior’s play as defenses focused on Briggs more than one year ago.
The forward was shooting just 34.5 percent overall heading into the Fresno State game compared to 49.5 percent last year. Briggs said prior to the season he wanted to display his 3-point shooting ability more, but was just 2-for-11 before Tuesday.
Sometimes, his most effective way to score was to drive to the net and draw a foul. Briggs gets to the free throw line almost twice as much (60 free throw attempts) as the next closest Roadrunner (31 attempts). His 0.69 free throw attempts for every field goal attempt is the 45th highest mark in the nation, according to Kenpom.
But even that has had its drawbacks.
“It’s caused him to make some turnovers that he normally wouldn't make trying to draw fouls and get to the line,” Barnes said, “and that’s not what we need to do.”
Briggs’ 24 turnovers are the most on the team.
He had gotten away from his game of rebounding, working inside and making scrappy plays, he said, because of the bigger role.
Then Tuesday night Briggs made several successful post moves for baskets inside. He hit a jumper in the lane off a pick and pop. In a strong first half for CSUB, he already racked up eight points and six rebounds.
He finished with more rebounds (nine) and points (13) than Roadrunners centers Moataz Aly and Fallou Ndoye combined for. Briggs did so while playing through an injured hand that has been bothering him for the past four or five games, Barnes said.
Now, the challenge is stringing together those spurts of strong plays on a consistent basis.
The team needs to help Briggs with better screens and passes, senior point guard Brent Wrapp said.
“We got to put him in easy spots to make plays and then we can roll from there,” Wrapp said. “We can't just give it to Shon and say, ‘Shon do your thing.’”
And Briggs needs to return to the form of himself that led CSUB on its National Invitation Tournament run last season. Briggs' performance against Fresno State was the first sign of that coming to fruition. Friday and Saturday’s games are the next steps.
“We expect him — as we told him today — that he’s gonna start to come around,” Barnes said Tuesday night. “He starts to come around, our team will start to come around.”
Jon Mettus can be reached at 661-395-7389. Follow him on Twitter at @jmettus.