The Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners men's and women's basketball teams welcomed fans back to the Icardo Center Thursday night after last season was played behind closed doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the Blue-Gold Scrimmage, returning spectators were treated to exuberant player introductions, three-point contests, flashy dunks, some highly relaxed scrimmaging and one moment of high drama: a game-winning half-court buzzer beater that banked in at an odd angle to give the blue team a 42-41 win in the men's scrimmage.
Shaun Williams' game-winner was his fifth 3-pointer in a scrimmage that lasted just 10 minutes, in which his team had trailed by nine.
"We practice it every day, that's the strangest thing," coach Rod Barnes said. "We don't run it the way they ran it, but we have everybody get to half-court and everyone take a shot every day to end practice. When he shot it, I thought, man, that has a chance."
The unlikely winner capped off a night replete with highlight plays in which defense was pretty much optional, with an overall ambiance familiar to anyone who has watched an NBA or WNBA All-Star Game. It's the sort of fan-dependent event the teams couldn't put on for much of the pandemic.
"Such a huge deal for our players and our coaches," Barnes said, "and the energy and the excitement of us being back together was just unreal."
In the women's scrimmage, the blue and gold squads were tied at 8 before Sage Bridges threw an alley-oop off the glass to Jayden Eggleston for a layup, Andie Easley hit a 3-pointer from just past the Roadrunner logo and Aaliyah Seuell beat the buzzer with a long jump shot. The "gold" team, which was wearing white, maintained that seven-point margin for the rest of the game, despite a crowd-pleasing 3-point shot from center Vanessa Austin, and won 27-20.
The 3-point contest was more dramatic, with Bridges setting the high score at 18 points before Easley used her very last ball to post a 19. That mark also stood as the overall high score on the evening until sixth-year senior Justin Edler-Davis managed a 20 as the final competitor for the men to close out the night.
The men preceded their scrimmage with a few choice dunks, including a between-the-legs number from Travis Henson and an unusual setup in which Ray Somerville dunked off a bounce pass from CSUB's vice president for student affairs.
After that, it was time for another facsimile of a basketball game. The blue team started fast when Williams shot a 3-pointer mere moments after it began, although they turned it over on their next possession when both Henson and Cameron Smith went up for the same alley-oop. Blue led 21-20 after one five-minute half, but transfer guard David Walker, who finished with 12 points, helped guide the gold team to a 34-25 lead.
But after three threes from Williams and one from Grehlon Easter, countered by a couple shots from gold, the blue team trailed 39-37 with time winding down, at which point they decided they very much wanted to win the scrimmage. After a timeout, they came out in a full-court press, actually won back the ball with 27 seconds left, and got a tying basket from Easter. Ole Miss transfer Antavion Collum briefly retook the lead with a layup after missing an initial attempt, but it was all for naught thanks to blue's game-winner.
Time will tell whether that level of drama persists into the actual CSUB basketball season. The women have an exhibition against Dominguez Hills on Nov. 5, while the men have one against San Diego Christian on Nov. 6.
"I just want to get everyone healthy and I think our guys have really worked," Barnes said. "Hopefully, next week, when we start off with our exhibition, everyone will come back and we'll have a big crowd again."