LAS VEGAS — Taze Moore held his jersey between his teeth. The Cal State Bakersfield men’s basketball redshirt sophomore walked to the end of the bench and planted his head face down into a pile of towels resting on a chair.
Moore had been subbed out of the first round Western Athletic Conference Tournament game against Texas-Rio Grande Valley for the final time with 1:34 left. So was CSUB’s core of Rickey Holden, Jarkel Joiner and James Suber. A cluster of Roadrunners reserves took the floor instead as the team signaled defeat.
Fifth-seeded CSUB (16-15, 7-9 WAC) spent much of the game trying to pull itself out of an early deficit. The Roadrunners pulled within seven points in the second half, but the 22-point first-half hole was too difficult to overcome. Fourth-seeded UTRGV (19-15, 9-7) was mostly dominant in an 85-70 win at Orleans Arena on Thursday.
“Tonight’s game was one that was kind of reflective of our season,” CSUB head coach Rod Barnes said. “We started off really slow and I thought our guys fought back. And as we ended, we didn’t end on a good note.
“I am the head coach so I take full responsibility of our program. We don’t plan to come here to participate. We intend to win. We’re not happy. We’re not pleased. Regardless of whether we’re young, old, in between, we’re bakersfield and our expectation is to win.”
One year after its first first-round WAC Tournament loss since joining the conference, the Roadrunners suffered the same fate. CSUB, which was in first place in the WAC almost halfway through conference play, lost nine of its last 10 games to end the season.
UTRGV, already in a season of firsts, won a WAC Tournament game for the first time in program history.
“We just dug a hole for ourselves,” Barnes said. “I thought (UTRGV) came out and played well. I think if we hadn’t turned the basketball over, we would have responded well.”
CSUB totaled 13 turnovers in the first half — exactly the number the Roadrunners averaged for an entire game heading into the contest. The team’s two main ball handlers of Holden and Joiner each had five in the game, contributing to 21 combined for the squad.
The empty offensive possession and inability to get stops on the defensive end quickly added up. UTRGV led 11-2 three minutes in before Barnes directed Holden to call a timeout.
When Joiner jumped in the air along the baseline and threw a pass into a crowd of players, it got picked off. The UTRGV steal set up the Vaqueros to draw a foul in transition. As UTRGV’s Tyson Smith hit one foul shot to cap an 11-0 run, Barnes threw his arms out trying to figure out why Joiner threw the pass.
CSUB eventually trailed 31-11 with 7:43 left in the first half. At that point, the Vaqueros had hit 11 of their 15 shots. CSUB was 3-for-17 and ultimately did not make a field goal for a stretch of more than nine minutes.
“The main issue that we had was a lack of focus,” Suber. “Just a lack of focus. That caused us to miss assignments.”
Suber scored 12 of his 13 points in the second half. Moore scored 11 of his 13 in the final 20 minutes. The duo willed the Roadrunners to only be down 62-55 with 8:54 to play.
It still wasn’t enough.
“We came out in the second half knowing we had to claw back, we had to fight back, knowing we had our backs against the wall,” Suber said. “We should have had that in the first half.”
At the end of January, CSUB was tied for first place in the conference. A first-place matchup with Grand Canyon loomed, which the Roadrunners lost handedly. Next, CSUB blew two late double-digit leads to lose back-to-back games in overtime and the season came crashing down.
The Roadrunners only beat WAC bottom feeder Chicago State the rest of the season. Redshirt senior sharpshooter Damiyne Durham was kicked off the team at halftime of the second-to-last regular season game.
And it was disappointing showing that caused another early end to the year.
“As a coach, I won’t feel right until … until we’re back here next year and we win,” Barnes said. “Am I hurt? Yeah. Am I disappointed? Yeah. But that happens daily, in a sense. I don’t take it and not be excited about life, excited about coaching these players. Yeah, it stings. Maybe I should say it stinks.”