Cal State Bakersfield’s defense forced UT Arlington out of everything the Mavericks wanted to do Wednesday, for about five minutes longer than UTA could come back from. And the Roadrunners got to celebrate their trip to the NIT semifinals on the College Park Center floor for their effort.
UTA had sent all 14 visitors to College Park Center this season home with a loss, until Bakersfield brought its stingy defense to town and left with a 80-76 win. UTA point guard Erick Neal scored 10 of his game-high 22 points in a furious comeback attempt in the game’s final 1:03 that came up two possessions short.
“Unfortunately we ran out of time tonight,” UTA coach Scott Cross said. “We played as hard as we could in the second half. It just wasn’t our night offensively.”
The Mavs’ fast-break opportunities came few and far between as Bakersfield clogged up passing lanes and muddled the pace of play for the first 13 minutes of the game. Then the Runners got hot.
Guard Damiyne Durham, a junior from tiny Oakwood, Texas, went 4 of 6 from 3-point range in the first half, including two from at least 4 feet behind the line. His last two of the first half were daggers, giving Bakersfield its first double-digit lead with 4:50 remaining in the first, then putting the Runners up 40-27 win just over two minutes left before halftime.
Bakersfield went 8 of 14 from deep in the first half and 10 of 19 for the game. Durham finished with 18 points on 5 of 8 3-point attempts.
“We got shell-shocked, to be honest,” Cross said. “That first half was a disaster for us.”
Meanwhile, the Roadrunners keyed on Kevin Hervey all night long, holding the junior to two first-half points before he found some semblance of a rhythm in the second half and finished with 15 points and eight rebounds. All in all, the Mavs shot just 35.5 percent from the floor.
But eventually, UTA was going to make its run. Forward Faith Pope tried to ignite it with a baseline 3-pointer that got the Mavericks within 56-45 with 12 minutes left to play, but Bakersfield forward Shon Briggs, who led the Runners with 19, had an answer on the other end.
The Mavs stayed within 10-12 by getting to the line until Neal hit the 3-pointer UTA had been begging for all night. He rose up at the top of the key, disregarding the hand in his face, and pulled the Mavericks within 67-59 with 5:42 to play.
Jorge Bilbao, who was held scoreless in the first half, cleaned up a Hervey miss with just over five minutes to play to bring them within 67-61.
“We worked every play like it was our last one,” Bilbao said. “Every rebound, every loose ball, every screen that you set. It was really heartbreaking at the end because we gave ourselves a chance.”
UTA had a chance, but Briggs again had the answer for Bakersfield down the stretch. His turnaround in the paint gave the Roadrunners a 71-61 lead with 3:45 left, and kept UTA at bay, despite Neal’s last-minute effort to steal the show.
He brought UTA back to within 74-68 with an oddly uncontested drive with just over a minute left to play before canning two more pull-up 3-pointers in the final 36 seconds that had the Mavs down 77-74 with 24 ticks left.
Two more Neal free throws made it 78-76, but with such little time left on the clock, the Mavericks had to play the foul game, which is usually a losing fight.
After the game, Hervey confirmed that he will return for his senior season and is not even considering the NBA Draft.
Hervey, who came back from a knee injury last season to average 17.3 points and 8.4 rebounds a game, was selected as the Sun Belt Player of the Year.
Matthew Martinez; 817-390-7760; @MCTinez817
CS BAKERSFIELD (25-9): Smith 4-7 3-7 11, Airington 3-5 2-2 10, Aly 1-2 1-2 3, Wrapp 0-3 1-2 1, Basile 3-10 5-6 14, Suber 0-0 0-0 0, Ndoye 0-0 0-0 0, Durham 6-11 1-2 18, Pride 1-2 2-2 4, Briggs 5-8 9-11 19. Totals 23-48 24-34 80.
UT Arlington (27-9): Hervey 4-16 7-9 15, Bilbao 2-5 1-4 5, Wilson 3-8 1-1 7, Charles 2-8 2-2 8, Neal 5-14 8-8 22, Harris 2-3 0-0 4, Pope 2-3 0-0 6, Kabadyundi 1-1 0-0 2, Bryant 0-0 0-0 0, Hawkins 1-4 5-5 7. Totals 22-62 24-29 76.
Halftime—CS Bakersfield 45-29. 3-Point Goals—CS Bakersfield 10-19 (Durham 5-8, Basile 3-6, Airington 2-4, Wrapp 0-1), UT Arlington 8-30 (Neal 4-12, Pope 2-2, Charles 2-8, Hawkins 0-1, Wilson 0-2, Hervey 0-5). Fouled Out—Bilbao, Airington, Aly. Rebounds—CS Bakersfield 30 (Durham 8), UT Arlington 35 (Bilbao 11). Assists—CS Bakersfield 11 (Pride 3), UT Arlington 12 (Neal 5). Total Fouls—CS Bakersfield 27, UT Arlington 22.