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Spartan Basketball: Facing a Wolf Pack Mentality

Almost is Never Enough

NCAA Basketball: Nevada at San Jose State
San Jose State Spartans center Oumar Barry (13) defending against Nevada Wolf Pack Jordan Caroline (24)
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The Spartans really aren’t as bad as their 3-15 record says - even after a good night sleep. Really.

Though the first-ranked, red-hot, 17-3 Nevada Wolf Pack remained unbeaten in the MWC after a tough-earned 71-54 win on San Jose’s home court, it wasn’t as easy as the Wolf Pack expected.

Nevada head coach, Eric Musselman, also wasn’t going to let his team underestimate the last place Spartans, because of the very reason he probably expected, which happened.

Basically, the Spartans kept up their defensive intensity for most of the game to stifle the Wolf Pack, until the Pack’s defense started to spark their offense in the middle of the second half to start pulling away from the Spartans.

The FIRST HALF

Spartan defensive pressure and physical intensity made things difficult enough to disrupt the no-hesitation shooting and slashing style of the Wolf Pack. The Wolf Pack shot less than 20%, going 3-16 from the perimeter. The Wolf Pack also experienced their lowest scoring half of the season with only 24 points in large part to the Spartan defense.

The Wolf Pack’s offensive personality remained fast and cocky. Though the half wasn’t their best because of the Spartans, they kept up the relentless, almost out-of-control play all throughout the game.

Nevada’s, John Caroline, epitomized the Wolf Pack’s physicality with big, strong athletic play that seemed to overwhelm at times. Even with Nevada shooting a few air balls, they kept shooting like it never happened.

Spartan, Brandon Mitchell, led the offensive push, along with two Oumar Barry blocks and a Noah Baumann 3-pointer right before half-time contributed to the Spartans 26-24 lead to end the half.

Also worth noting, the Spartans aggressiveness in a number of games can also borne out their inexperience and head-scratching mistakes, which shows in their turnover count:

  • Brandon Mitchell makes a 3-pointer; Nevada quickly counters with a 3-point attempt and is fouled when the Spartan defense gets caught flat-footed
  • The Spartans attack the offensive board; briefly get control but turn the ball over and Nevada transitions to a breakaway dunk (a 6 to 10 point swing off OREBs was completely possible here)
  • Spartans come out of a time-out with ample clock and couldn’t figure out a 2-man press to get a shot up?

The SECOND HALF

Both teams started slow in the first 5 minutes, until Nevada’s Caleb Martin had 2 steals that helped tie the game at 34.

The second half mostly remained a defensive battle and it soon became clear that someone’s defense was going to determine the game and enable the offense.

Spartan, Brandon Mitchell, continued his offensive surge and scored a career-high 18 points, but San Jose’s team offense dipped considerably from the 48% shooting effort in the first half, while the Wolf Pack’s offense picked up significantly.

The Spartans switched to a zone about halfway into the second half, but the change was ineffective, as the Wolf Pack shooting improved to shoot over the zone.

Wolf Packer Caleb Martin and game-high scorer with 24 points, also became the difference-maker with slashing and-1 drives that helped push the lead out further and further to the final 71-54 score.

LAST NOTE

The Spartans did keep the Wolf Pack notably under their 80+ points per game average and they should be realizing even more than they can compete. But they’ll have to figure out key phases and aspects of the game that continue to elude them.

You can practice continually in a vacuum and yet, it still won’t make enough difference in a game - think turnovers, scoring up close, transition play, moving without the ball and dynamic scheming against competition.

Anyways, the Spartans get a bit of a reprieve until next week when the play Boise State next Wednesday, January 24th.