Having found a way to consistently stay on the court during a highly uncertain year, Cal State Bakersfield still felt the sting of an abrupt ending to its season.
Ezran Manjon split two defenders to get into the paint and converted an uncontested reverse layup with one second to play, which proved to be the difference, as UC Davis ended CSUB's season in a tight 58-56 final in the quarterfinals of the Big West Men's Basketball Tournament in Las Vegas on Thursday.
The Roadrunners, who trailed by as many as eight in the second half, battled back to briefly take the lead and had even answered the first potential Aggie game-winner with a tying basket by Taze Moore.
After Damion Squire put Davis ahead 56-54 with 30 seconds to play, Moore answered with a layup of his own just 10 seconds later, slashing to the basket to convert the final two of his team-high 12 points.
But that would be the last good scoring look the 'Runners would get this season. After Manjon's shot went in with just a second to go, Czar Perry could only get off a desperation heave from his own foul line, one that fell well short of the basket.
"I'm hurt. I'm really hurt," Moore said after the game. "It's just disappointing to have the season we had, have the accomplishments we had. And it just had to happen like this. It's truly disappointing."
It didn't seem things would go this way for the Roadrunners as a fiery defensive effort helped them jump out to an early lead. CSUB forced five early turnovers during a 10-0 run in the first half and eventually pulled ahead by as many as 10 points.
But fortunes changed thanks to a very sloppy close to the half at the offensive end. The Aggies forced six turnovers in a seven-possession stretch and used a 12-0 run of their own to grab a 32-29 lead at the break.
Though he thought it helped them come out with great energy early, coach Rod Barnes said a 12-day layoff from the end of the regular season to the tournament opener knocked his team off its game a bit, as his players at times struggled to combat an aggressive Aggie defense.
"They're one of the best teams as far as stealing the basketball," Barnes said. "And I don't want to take anything from them because they made the plays. Part of it (was) because we had been off 12 days. When you haven't played that long, you have a sense of having some rust. We were really excited, really pumped up. And it kind of wore down a little bit."
It was another tough end for the Roadrunners, who haven't won a conference tournament game since a four-overtime victory over Utah Valley in the WAC semifinals on March 10, 2017.
But the year brought about some good as well. CSUB finishes its first season in the Big West 15-11 and was able to play its final 19 games uninterrupted in the midst of a pandemic, a fact Barnes felt was worthy of highlighting despite the disappointing end to the year.
"We wanted to come in and we wanted to compete right way," Barnes said. "But also we wanted to represent and represent this university and our city well. And I think our guys did that. I think people can say this team ... night in and night out in the midst of a pandemic, really gave us and gave them all that we had."