Rickey Holden threw both arms up and started his strut back to the Cal State Bakersfield bench. Justin Davis ran in front of Holden, wrapped his arms around Holden’s chest and lifted Holden into the air.
Georgia Southern’s final two shots of the game had just hit off the rim and stayed out of the net and Holden’s two free throws 10 seconds earlier were the difference on the scoreboard.
Getting revenge for a blowout loss at Georgia Southern in the second game of the season, Cal State Bakersfield (7-6) beat the Eagles (8-3), 55-53, at the Icardo Center on Saturday afternoon.
Georgia Southern was ranked 85th in nation by Kenpom coming into the game. CSUB was slotted at 178.
Holden scored a game-high 16 points and CSUB center Moataz Aly scored 13 in just 14 minutes of action. The Roadrunners held Georgia Southern’s duo of Tookie Brown and Ike Smith that scored 45 points on it in the first matchup to just 9 points.
“Not only did we get the win, but the game was played in the way that we wanted to play,” CSUB head coach Rod Barnes said. “It was a hard-nosed, rough, physical kind of game that you have to play great defense to end up winning it and that’s the satisfying thing to me. I know every time we can win with defense our guys will believe in it more.”
With just a one point lead and 32 seconds left in the game, Holden cut twice on an inbound pass before getting hit with Brown’s chest. Holden crashed to the ground, got up and sunk both free throws.
“I wasn’t trying to draw the fouls,” Holden said. “I was really trying to get open, but they ended up bumping (me) and I just flopped a little bit and made them call the foul.”
CSUB assistant coach Jeff Conarroe slapped the floor from one knee on the sideline, he waved his arms at the crowd, but Georgia Southern’s Mike Hughes drove baseline through the CSUB defense. Roadrunners guard freshman guard Jarkel Joiner tried to draw a charge but was inside the restricted area.
The layup and the ensuing free throw tied the game at 53 with 14 seconds left.
Running off the ball again, Holden juked out Hughes before both fell to the ground on the far side of the court. Hughes fouled out on the play.
“Just make the free throws. Don’t miss now,” Holden thought to himself as he bounced the ball twice and spun it in his hands.
Both shots swished through the net. Georgia Southern’s David-Lee Jones Jr. drove the length of the court only to miss a layup. The Eagles' Montae Glenn grabbed his fourth offensive rebound of the game, but missed the desperation shot before the buzzer amid a crowd of players.
“Our free throws and our stops and some shots that guys made were very timely,” Barnes said.
When CSUB lost at Georgia Southern, 77-53, more than one month ago, it never led and turned the ball over 18 times. On Saturday, the Roadrunners led for more than 31 minutes in a game that changed leads 12 times. CSUB turned the ball over just 8 times.
It won despite missing center Fallou Ndoye for most of the game because of a hip bruise, Barnes said. Ndoye played nine minutes at the end when Aly got in foul trouble. CSUB scored just enough in a game where Barnes elected to play his most dynamic scorer — Damiyne Durham — just three minutes in the second half because of the matchups and how tightly Durham was being pressured.
“This team has to build its own identity,” Barnes told his players before the game. “Our program is known to play hard and play great defense and we figure out ways to win and that’s what we’re gonna have to do today.”
Jon Mettus can be reached at 661-395-7389. Follow him on Twitter at @jmettus.