I was very concerned coming into this game. CSU Bakersfield had been shooting lights out from deep in the NIT. They had won three straight road games against higher ranked teams while only trailing a combined 18 seconds. I thought if they could shoot lights out they could hang in with a bigger Yellow Jackets team. The shot a decent 8/23 from deep, but that was not nearly enough to hang with the Jackets. The Roadrunners (Yes they have a fantastic mascot) hung in there for the entire first half. GT started to pull away throughout the first 10 minutes of the second half. They didn’t have too many long runs, but CSU-B struggled to score and they took advantage. There wasn’t much doubt about the outcome for the final 9 or so minutes.
Once again, this was a short bench, with 7 players taking nearly all of the minutes. There was Josh Okogie, who really led this offense all game. He struggled to finish a little, but he got to the line and made his free throws. He scored 22 points on 7-18 shooting (and 7-9 from the line). And of course Ben Lammers was anchoring the defense and providing efficient offense. He had 15 points on 6-8 shooting with 11 rebounds and 5 blocks. He only had one assist, but it was a beautiful behind the back to a cutting Quinton Stephens. Speaking of Stephens, he was very aggressive, played strong defense, and had a good game despite not shooting well from deep. He had 13 points on 4-12 shooting and 9 rebounds. Tadric Jackson added a spark off the bench, especially in the first half. He finished with 12 points on 4-8 from the field including a crazy buzzer beating 3 to end the first half. Justin Moore found himself at the rim nearly at will, but struggled with his finishing a little. Overall though, he was very effective. He had 8 points on 3-6 shooting. Josh Heath and Corey Heyward didn’t add much to the point column, but as usual they were stalwarts on the defensive end and they actually did a very good job of keeping the occasional Roadrunner press at bay.
It was the defense that won this game, however. With Lammers in the middle, CSU-B never looked comfortable taking a layup and it showed. The Roadrunners shot 34.8% from deep, but only 35.1% from inside the arc. That would seem like a fluke if the Yellow Jackets hadn’t been doing that to teams all season. Bakersfield did have some effective offensive players. The diminutive Dedrick Basile had 18 points on 6-14 shooting and he was helped by Jaylin Arrington with 12 and Shon Briggs with 10. Damiyne Durham struggled from deep on his way to a 4-17 (1-10 from 3) shooting performance.
In a season that seemed destined for failure, the Yellow Jackets are now headed to the NIT Finals. They will take place on Thursday, March 30 at 8 PM Eastern Time against the winner of TCU and UCF. The game is on ESPN and is taking place at Madison Square Garden. Either way this season has been a massive success, but these players have worked hard all year and I would love to see them coming home with some hardware.