A quick turnaround served the Cal State Bakersfield men's basketball team well in its opening weekend of Big West play.
Coach Rod Barnes says the mood around the team was anything but jovial after the Roadrunners dropped their conference opener in agonizing fashion at Long Beach State last Friday.
CSUB seemingly locked up a win after Justin McCall broke a late tie on a putback dunk with 1.6 seconds remaining. But forced to go the length of the court, the Beach caught a break when Shaden Knight dropped down to set a screen on Taze Moore, who was defending the inbounds pass.
Moore was called for a foul after running over Knight, who went to the foul line and tied the game at 75. The Roadrunners went on to lose 90-89 in overtime.
“You go from being as excited as you can be at the end of the game to feeling as bad as you can be within a couple of seconds," Barnes said. "It was a long night for the players and the coaches. Most of us didn’t sleep that much.”
Luckily, things were corrected in the following day's rematch. A stronger defensive effort — Long Beach's shooting percentage dropped nine percent and it hit five fewer 3s — and a balanced offense sparked the 'Runners to an 89-76 win, their first conference win in the Big West.
With their initial Big West home games against Cal Poly scheduled for Friday and Saturday, there's reason to believe the Roadrunners can build on last Saturday's win.
CSUB has had great recent success against the Mustangs, defeating them by double digits in each of the last two seasons.
They also have a chance to continue a dominant stretch on the glass. Entering Thursday, the Roadrunners led the nation in offensive rebounds per game (16.33). Their plus-13 rebounding margin ranks fourth in the country.
The Mustangs (2-4), who haven't played since Dec. 19, entered Thursday ranked 203 in rebounding differential.
And while Poly's extended delay in game action, caused by a positive COVID-19 test last month, seemingly gives the 'Runners an advantage, Barnes says that may not be the case.
Entering last weekend's games, the Beach had also gone through a three-week layoff, which Barnes says made them difficult to scout. CSUB didn't have adequate film on players like freshman Jadon Jones, who had scored eight career points total before putting up 18 in his team's overtime win.
The Roadrunners proceeded to hold Jones to three points the following day, and though he is confident his defense can come out sharp Friday, Barnes acknowledges that Poly may have a few rested, unheralded players that could be difficult to account for.
"This particular year, you have a better sense of their personnel and what they can and can’t do the second night," he said. "The first thing is trying to get through the first night and hopefully you can get a win and then make those adjustments.”
Barnes is also trying to avoid putting unneeded significance on the first Big West games to be played at the Icardo Center. Not only have the Roadrunners faced the Mustangs two years in a row, they've hosted Big West teams in either scrimmages or non-conference games in each of the last four seasons.
But even if he's preaching a "just another game" mentality, he doesn't expect his players will have the same approach.
“I’ll try to downplay it … just say it’s our next game, it’s our next Big West Conference game," Barnes said. "But I’ll tell you, our guys are going to be feeling like ‘hey, we’ve got to protect our house on the first Big West Conference game.’ There’s only so much a coach can do when the team takes over at that point.”
Friday and Saturday's games will both tip off at 7 p.m. and can be streamed at watchespn.com
The Roadrunner women were set to face the Mustangs on the road this weekend, but the games were canceled by Poly on Tuesday evening. The CSUB women have now had more games canceled (five) than played (four).
"You just never know with (COVID-19) how it’s going to hit and how it’s going to affect you,' coach Greg McCall said. "It throws off all your rhythm, all your conditioning that you’ve been doing to build up to this point, it just basically goes out of the window and you’re starting over from scratch.”