“We wouldn’t have won tonight if it weren’t for the guys who aren’t on the stat sheet,” said Spartan guard Omari Moore. “Our scout team deserves all the credit. They really challenged us all week at practice.”
Head coach Tim Miles added, “I was really curious; in the locker room before the game, they were really loose. That’s either a really good sign or a really bad sign - thank goodness it was a good sign.”
In round one against Utah State (19-7, 8-5 MW) three weeks ago, San Jose State (15-10, 6-6 MW) had their best chance since 2018 to defeat the Aggies. The Spartans held the lead for a majority of that game, but lost by one point in front of a raucous Aggie crowd.
“We didn’t like the way we lost that game,” said Spartan center Ibrahima Diallo. “I couldn’t go to bed that night, but coming into tonight, it was about giving your everything.”
This time Diallo’s clutch play in the final minutes with two free throws and a turnaround jumper complimented an explosive second half by Moore, who scored 27 with 20 points in the second half.
In round two against the Aggies at home, San Jose State blasted out with high energy, then stagnated, then brawled, then closed out for the win. The end.
SJS’ game plan was simple: press heavy on Utah at the perimeter and hound the top three point shooter in the conference in Aggie guard Steve Ashworth, who was held to 14 points (2-6 and 1-3 from three).
After forcing six Aggie turnovers and pushing out to 15-6 lead eight minutes in, the Spartans offense stalled, while Utah weathered through to hit their stride; shooting 52% (12-23) to SJS’ 29% for the half.
As Ashworth started to break through in the last three minutes of the half, so did a scoreless Moore.
With Moore’s first two points finally hitting at 2:48, Moore’s buzzer-beating three pulled the Spartans to within one and a 32-31 Aggies’ lead at the half.
Moore leans into the second half
With Moore’s 10th 20-point-plus outing, SJS found themselves in another slugfest that was messy but gutsy and entertaining.
Moore drove to the basket early and often; forcing the Aggies to collapse in and experience foul trouble. With the Spartans last in free throw percentage in the conference, SJS shot well-enough at the line (17-25, 68%), while their defensive pressure chipped at Utah State.
The many back-and-forth lead changes made for perfect Saturday night nail biting, while the Provident Credit Union Event Center crowd seemingly doubled the decibel level of the 2,389 in attendance.
After finding their shooting touch throughout the game, Utah State suffered consecutive bad shots in the final minute and finally crumbled under the Spartan defensive pressure and their home crowd.
“Omari and our second-half defense carried us,” said Miles. “With some timely free throws by Ibrahima, it was fun to see all those different elements take place and it was a really good win for us.”
Next up, Valentines in Las Vegas to see if the run of energy continues.