In one of the locker rooms in the back of the Icardo Center, Cal State Bakersfield head coach Greg McCall singled out each one of his post players with a message. None of them had scored, from the post at least, in the first 20 minutes of the game.
“This is basically on you,” he told each one. “(If) you guys start finishing around the rim, we could pull this thing out.”
CSUB was down by four to New Mexico State at halftime. McCall’s team panicked early in the game. But the posts came alive in the second half and led a surge that saw CSUB outscore the Aggies by 10 in the fourth quarter, shooting almost 73 percent.
The Roadrunners (13-10, 7-2 Western Athletic) took down New Mexico State (12-10, 6-2), 62-52, on Thursday night to jump past the Aggies into first place in the conference. CSUB beat NMSU for the first time since the 2014-15 season.
“This is one of the big wins,” McCall said after CSUB’s fifth straight win. “I think you always talk about, is this one of the bigger wins in our program history. Yes, it is.”
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The way the last meeting with the Aggies finished was unsettling to McCall. His team took bad shots and didn’t execute, he said. The Roadrunners led for more than 28 minutes in the game, yet did not score for the final 3:58.
That was how Thursday’s matchup started for CSUB. The Aggies took an 18-11 lead after their first make in the second quarter and led by eight with two and a half minutes to go until halftime.
Then came McCall’s halftime speech.
“You guys are so tight because we know you want to beat them so bad,” he said. “Let’s just relax and let’s make sure we finish.”
He was referencing layups when he told his players to finish, but the sentiment was the same for the game as a whole.
They followed through.
The Roadrunners outscored New Mexico State, 31-17, in the final 16 minutes of the game. Center Jazmyne Bartee scored all of her 12 points during that span. She went 6-for-6 from the floor. Forward Alize’ Lofton’s six second-half points all came from her play on the low block.
NMSU head coach Brooke Atkinson turned into the coach telling her team to relax. She kept reminding them they were still ahead until, with 4:37 left in the third quarter, it disappeared for good.
“This is a huge win for our team, for us to get our momentum,” said Lofton, who led CSUB with 14 points and five assists in the game.
Bartee broke out a new post move. Lofton faked shots to dump passes to Bartee for open layups. CSUB’s 12 points in the paint in the fourth quarter matched its total for the first three.
McCall and his players have said the team could beat anyone in the WAC and should be a favorite come tournament time, but now those words have significantly more weight.
“We’re gonna go far and we’re gonna win the WAC and we’re gonna win the ‘ship,” CSUB guard Jazmine Johnson said. “Everybody in the WAC get ready, because we’re coming for y’all.”
No matter how big Thursday night’s win was, McCall knows it can easily be wiped away by a loss to Texas-Rio Grande Valley on Saturday — or any other loss the rest of the year, for that matter.
“We can’t lose our focus,” McCall said. “We gotta stay on this high.”