In the three day turnaround after a demoralizing loss to Nevada, San Jose State (12-6, 3-2 MW) course-corrected Tuesday night to an energetic 74-64 win over Fresno State (6-10, 2-3 MW).
With the Fresno State rivalry around since 1916 and after 11 consecutive losses to the Bulldogs since 2017, San Jose State was electric Tuesday night.
For the modest crowd of 2,084 at SJSU, they witnessed a night where the Spartans repeatedly played above the rim, where at least seven rim shakers could have been ESPN-highlight-worthy.
And the keys to victory? No secret except the application of aggression and energy.
“Two hard practices after getting your butt kicked by Nevada and having to go through a film session that seemed like it lasted forever was an incentive,” remarked Spartan head coach Tim Miles on how and why the Spartans needed to come out strong.
“Our guys know exactly what they need to get better at,” Miles added.
“This is a good-hearted team who wants each other to do well.”
Another fast start that sustained this time
Right out of the gate, Spartan guard Alvaro Cardenas hit from the arc, center Ibrahima Diallo slams home two and Omari Moore hits a three for an early lead.
But Fresno, despite being short-handed, was still highly potent tying the game up at eight points each, which would be the closest the Bulldogs would get all night.
Cardenas’ vision and aggressive play earned a career-high 20 points; hitting six triples.
“I feel like I always put the work in,” said Cardenas. “It’s more a confidence thing and trust in my work, then really being aggressive. That was my mentality coming into the game.”
Cardenas nine assists spawned a variety of dunks to Diallo and forwards Sage Tolbert and Tibet Gorener - from two-handed full-extension tomahawks to one-handed rim rattlers to 360 pirouette slams all the way to the garden variety ones.
The team win effort was also buoyed with 12 points each by Tolbert and Fresno State transfer Robert Vaihola who also along with Diallo are providing the inside presence to SJS’ early season success.
Spartan stalwart guard Moore put in full duty going 40 minutes providing 15 points and eight assists.
“This game I wanted to come out hard and aggressive and the team wants that from me all 40 minutes,” said Moore. “It’s like flipping that switch, then go, go, go.”
A great game, but there’s always something to fix
As most all teams do, they make a run.
The depth of Fresno State was still impressive. With 28 points from the bench, the Bulldogs were always within striking distance; coming to within four points with six minutes left before the Spartans regrouped and pulled away.
“Our screen-and-roll defense wasn’t our best today,” said Cardenas. “I take blame for not being into the ball enough and making sure I don’t get screened.”
Miles being weary of the Bulldogs’ screen-and-roll proficiency lived with it and tried to counter it.
“Early in the game, we were stopping their ball handler.” said Miles. “Then Anthony Holland hits consecutive three-pointers then we went to a different coverage that was more effective to make it a two-man game, so that point guard is going to be at the rim.”
Miles added, “I also thought Omari and Alvaro were kind of tired and I had this mindset that we are winning this game with this 6-7 rotation. There also wasn’t a lot of activity in the wings and that hurt us, but how you beat this screen-and-roll is by picking your poison.”
Before the Spartans face Fresno again, they’ll see New Mexico in a week who’ll do more of the same.
From Miles, Moore, and Cardenas - all acknowledged the need to continue working to clean up their defense as they continue the first go-around of conference competition and continue to harden all-around.