It was a weary Cal State Bakersfield basketball team that arrived on campus around 4 p.m. Thursday.
Less than 24 hours earlier, the Roadrunners held on to win at Texas-Arlington 80-76 in the quarterfinals of the National Invitation Tournament.
The next game for CSUB (25-9) is in New York City’s Madison Square Garden on Tuesday against Georgia Tech (20-15) in the NIT semifinals.
After Wednesday’s emotional win, CSUB took a flight from Dallas to LAX, then a bus ride through L.A. traffic. That would wear anyone out.
But scores of students and fans, buoyed by CSUB cheerleaders and the pep band playing the CSUB fight song, rejuvenated the Roadrunners as they exited the team bus.
It’s been a whirlwind 10 days, with CSUB winning three NIT games — all on the road — to become the first No. 8 seed to reach the NIT semifinals since the seeding and quadrant format began in 2007.
“We were so tired,” said junior center Moataz Aly. “But we saw all those people and we got all excited.”
“A lot of love,” said senior guard Justin Pride. “We’re excited seeing all these people coming out and supporting us.”
Players and coaches were only part of the traveling party. Numerous administrators from CSUB were part of the group, which left Bakersfield on Sunday to fly to Denver, then a drive to Fort Collins, Colo., for Monday’s game at fourth-seeded Colorado State.
CSUB won that game 81-63. That meant another flight on Tuesday to Dallas, and a short ride from there to Arlington.
The Roadrunners, who led by as many as 20 points early in the second half on Wednesday against No. 6 seed Texas-Arlington, electrified their fans by holding on and punching their ticket to New York City. The red-hot Roadrunners are 14-2 since Jan. 21.
The players and coaches relished the hugs and cheers they received Thursday afternoon as they arrived back on campus.
“It’s special for our guys, getting the support they’ve worked extremely hard for from the Bakersfield community,” said Dr. Thomas Wallace, CSUB’s vice president for student affairs who attended the games this week.
“They are part of the Bakersfield community,” Wallace added. “To see the campus and the community come out and support our guys — that’s what it’s all about.”
The Roadrunners won in Berkeley against top-seeded Cal 73-66 on March 14 to open the NIT. Beating a Pac-12 team, then Colorado State from the Mountain West Conference, and then Sun Belt Conference champion Texas-Arlington that hadn’t lost a game at home all season has made it a special postseason.
After soaking in what his Roadrunners have accomplished, coach Rod Barnes said he’s become more appreciative of the feat.
“It’s probably more special than we were looking at at the time,” Barnes said. “That’s what happens most of the time with our team. We’re so focused on what’s next we don’t get caught up on why we got to this point of what happened.
“Now that I look back on it after three games, I can see why people are talking about it. Eighth seed winning three games on the road ... That’s a pretty big deal.”
On Sunday, the Roadrunners have a 3,000-mile flight and another special memory, playing in the “Mecca” known as Madison Square Garden.
“Our focus when we came here was to put CSUB and Bakersfield on the map,” Barnes said. “I think we’re doing that now. We’re getting a lot of national recognition the last week or so. … To see all the people writing about us, tweeting about us, talking about our university and our team. It’s special.”