Before games, Cal State Bakersfield's Justin Davis always took it upon himself to pump up starting guard/forward Shon Briggs, who Davis was playing behind.
“You’re the man,” Davis told Briggs all season long. “No one can guard you.”
But now it’s Briggs pumping up Davis, giving him advice and keeping him level-headed, whether it be in person or through text message.
The senior injured his right foot on Feb. 3 and the redshirt freshman has slid into his place. CSUB (10-15, 3-7 Western Athletic) is holding out hope that Briggs might return for the WAC Tournament that starts on March 8. In the meantime, Davis will make his third consecutive start on Saturday against Grand Canyon (17-9, 6-4). The game tips off at 7 p.m. in the Icardo Center.
“Starting from the beginning of the season, I just wanted to get onto the court,” Davis said. “And now that I’ve been playing more, I don't really want my mentality to change. I still want to be an energy guy, get rebounds, just do whatever coach tells me to do. I feel like as my role increases, I just have to stay the same person.”
Davis earned his way onto the court with his hustle plays. He took charges and dove for loose balls. CSUB head coach Rod Barnes said Davis always found a way to make one or two important plays in a game. Then the first-year player hit a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in the Great Alaskan Shootout.
He played 28 minutes against Central Michigan in the tournament championship game — one day after his game-winning shot — and 32 at Fresno State. Davis' role continued to grow, but the responsibility to handle a large scoring or rebounding burden was not there.
Without Briggs, more of a responsibility falls on Davis.
“(We’re) putting a lot on his plate right now as far as taking the position,” Barnes said.
Briggs averaged 25.2 minutes, 10.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game before he got hurt. He wasn’t playing up to his ability, but was playing better lately, Barnes said.
Davis is at 19.7 minutes, 7.0 points and 4.9 rebounds on the year. He averaged 23 minutes, 8.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in the two contests so far without Briggs. Davis was playing “really well” prior to Briggs going out.
“The coaches have told me since he got hurt, just continue to do you and everything will fall into place,” Davis said. “I definitely know that there is pressure there, but I try to ignore that pressure and just play.”
Barnes isn’t one to talk about replacing players. Each athlete is different and provides separate skills and benefits to the team, he said.
The loss of points can be spread around to the likes of Damiyne Durham, Jarkel Joiner and Rickey Holden. The rebounding will be more in the hands of Fallou Ndoye and Greg Lee, too.
But the absence of Briggs was obvious in CSUB’s last game against Texas-Rio Grande Valley when the Roadrunners turned the ball over 22 times and struggled against the press. Briggs typically could push the ball up the floor against a weaker on-ball defender.
Davis is quicker, but not as good of a ball handler, Barnes said.
“I don’t think he’s quite prepared for that so we gotta move some people around and make sure that if we get pressed again, that we handle it better,” Barnes said about Davis.
More than anything, Barnes noticed the lack of Briggs’ experience on the court in terms of his knowledge and comfort in making plays regardless of the time on the clock or the spot on the floor.
Only more games will help Davis — who will be playing against Grand Canyon for the first time in his career on Saturday — with that.
“We don't need anything extra from Justin Davis,” Barnes said.
CSUB women's basketball going for seventh straight win
The Roadrunners can extend their winning streak to seven games with a win over Grand Canyon on the road on Saturday. The contest will be at 1 p.m.
CSUB is sitting in first place in the WAC with a 14-10 overall record and 8-2 conference record. Grand Canyon is tied with New Mexico State and Seattle for second place at 7-3 in WAC play.
Grand Canyon makes more 3-pointers per game (eight) than any other team in the conference and the Antelopes' Jessica Gajewski leads the WAC in 3-point percentage (39.7).