Speaking by phone from Anchorage, Alaska on Nov. 21, Cal State Bakersfield head coach Rod Barnes reflected on his team before what would be a pivotal week in its development.
He talked Brent Wrapp getting healthy, inconsistencies at center and figuring out his players’ minutes and roles during the upcoming Great Alaska Shootout.
Then his focus shifted to redshirt freshman forward Justin Davis, who was sitting on the fence between limited minutes and earning a valuable role.
“He’s been a guy that’s figured out how in every game almost to just make some play, whether it’s a charge, he takes a charge, he gets a rebound or he makes a shot or something,” Barnes said.
Three days later, Davis hit a game-winning 3-pointer against Idaho to send CSUB into the Great Alaska Shootout championship game. From that moment and moving forward, Davis has thrust himself into the Roadrunners rotation.
He scored a career-best 13 points in the tournament title game in a career-high 28 minutes. Though Davis played only three minutes on Saturday in a loss to previously winless Northern Arizona, it was an all around uncharacteristic performance for the team so Barnes leaned on his starters more than usual to try to right the ship, Barnes said.
As CSUB will try to recover from the loss, Davis will try to get back to expanding his role on the court when the Roadrunners head to Fresno State for a 7 p.m. game at the Save Mart Center in Fresno on Tuesday.
“He’s playing well right now,” Barnes said on Nov. 28, “and I think he’s gonna become — as he is right now — he’s important in our rotation. He’s solidified he’s in the rotation of our seven or eight guys right now that we got to get onto the floor.”
Before CSUB started the season, Barnes pondered whether Davis would be “the guy.” He had a good showing in the charity game at Long Beach State with nine points and eight rebounds.
Four games into the season, Davis started to make his move. In the final three minutes at Lamar, Davis grabbed a steal under the basket immediately after Lamar’s Josh Nzeakor rebounded a Damiyne Durham miss. Davis made the layup and drew a foul. The three-point swing boosted CSUB’s lead to 11.
With the Roadrunners down two against Central Michigan, Davis crashed the boards on a Durham miss, tipping it off a CMU player and out of bounds so CSUB would retain possession with one minute left.
“(Davis) has been a special guy for us,” center Moataz Aly said. “He helps us a lot. He does all the extra work that we need.”
While Barnes knew Davis was solid defensively, he’s learned that Davis can be an asset on the offensive end as well. Davis can stretch the floor and has taken less rushed shots than he did in the beginning of the season, Barnes said.
Davis is the only player with more than 100 minutes played on the team that has more steals than turnovers. He's second on the team with 14 offensive rebounds.
Barnes equates Davis’ role to that of Shon Briggs from a year ago. If he played well, it was great. If not, it wasn’t a huge loss because there were players in bigger roles to make up the difference.
He’s probably playing “as efficient and effective as anybody on our team,” Barnes said on Nov. 28. “But also it comes with sometimes not the responsibility that another guy has.”
Barnes likes the pieces his team has and is still figuring where they all fit best. Davis is one of the young players that is still defining and growing his role.