The nearby Santa Clara University Broncos (10-5) came in hard and fast on San Jose State (6-5) with a decisive 79-57 win on the Spartans home court; breaking their five game home winning streak.
Just three minutes into the game the Broncos were in attack mode. Santa Clara accumulated three fouls and found a lot of early mismatches taking advantage of their greater bulk and strength.
Size advantage SCU
It was clear the Broncos were going to take their power advantage to the hilt.
Freshman guard Alvaro Cardenas would find the bigger Santa Clara guards, Carlos Stewart and Giordan Williams, pressing hard on the slender Cardenas.
To Cardenas’ credit, he attacked right back helping keep the Spartans with four midway in the first half.
Cardenas finished with seven points, three rebounds and two assists, but with a plus/minus of -21, Santa Clara neutralized that spark plug.
Also, in the first half, the other Spartan spark plug, guard Omari Moore, had zero points, but came to life at 12:45 in the second half exploding out with 13 points and a blocked shot.
But Moore also felt the negative side of the plus/minus at -18.
As it became clear the Broncos were effective in slowing the Spartan perimeter, it would also be a long evening where the Spartan never led in the game.
“That’s why we need a big physical team, so we can do both and we’re working on it,” said head coach Tim Miles on the Bronco’s size and experience advantage. “I thought they did a good job getting into us with some good pressure.”
“Also, I thought we were OK defensively until we got into some foul trouble with Omari and Trey Anderson.”
Second half SCU explosion
Five minutes into the second half, the Spartans were 0-7 shooting from the field with three turnovers, while Santa Clara barreled out on a 12-0 run.
The mismatches continued in the paint with the Bronco big men taking their time pounding the Spartans in the low block. Santa Clara had five players with double digit scoring.
“No doubt there’s lack of rim protection without center Ibrahim Diallo and I think the guys do feel like that,” said Miles.
Miles employed some last-ditch efforts in a final sprint.
“Later in the game, when we’re running around in a full court press, then you’re really vulnerable to cuts and second shots and Santa Clara is smart enough to take advantage of us that way, even though we cut into their lead.”
Shon, the constant
Throughout the struggle, Spartan forward Shon Robinson attacked both ends of the floor finishing with a strong double-double performance (16 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks).
“As a coach, how do you juggle both?” said Miles on achieving an equilibrium of defensive exertion and offensive attack mode. “You recruit big strong guys and you develop your players to be big strong guys, so they can do both and we’re not there yet, but I look forward to the day we are.”
Every Spartan was on the negative side of the plus/minus against Santa Clara.
Overall, it was a relative barometer of what to expect in Mountain West play and a good honest indication where Miles’ program is in year one.
“I think there’s a lot to be learned tonight,” said Miles. “There’s a lot of guys who feel like they let their team down and that’s an OK feeling to have.”
“We have a much-needed break and with COVID everywhere,” said Miles in an ominous hint of what we all face. “I hope it’s a healthy and happy break for everybody, especially with guys traveling, but we definitely need that break and I’m glad to have it.”
The Spartans regroup and return to practice right after Christmas day.
In eight days, another strong test arrives in San Jose - the Nevada Wolf Pack.