San Jose State (16-11, 7-7 MW) came into their Friday night home bout against New Mexico (20-7, 7-7 MW) with good momentum after two straight wins vs. a Lobos team that was supposedly reeling after four straight losses.
But what was once hope to split the series turned into a 96-68 Lobos’ landslide and bounce back win for the superior team.
Along the way to a dominate performance, New Mexico also sent a clear message to the conference they were in contention for whatever lays ahead.
In the first six minutes, the Spartans were sharp as was New Mexico. With SJS center Ibrahima Diallo starting fast (12 points, nine rebound in the game), each team kept pace and traded shots inside to where SJS led 15-14 before the Lobos clamped down and took off, while the Spartans faded.
“Sometimes as a coach, you lose your mind and you get this huge emotional charge going,” said head coach Tim Miles on trying to get the Spartans to match the Lobos’ intensity. “I have found over the years that could work here or there, but it comes down to the players believing they can match that intensity.”
The Lobos potent guard combination of Jamaal Mashburn Jr. and Jaelen House were just better. With Mashburn pouring in a smooth 27 points, House’s energetic return from injury sparked the Lobos’ transition game to the tee. The Spartans struggled keeping up all game.
Lobos center Morris Udeze also outclassed the Spartans with 31 points inside and 12 rebounds. Udeze’s double-double was his 11th this season, which leads the conference.
“We tried to disrupt their better players in House and Mashburn,” said Miles. “But then, do we double team Udeze inside with the damage he was doing there.”
“But then you’re playing two on three against House and Mashburn, so it’s more like picking your poison.”
In the second half, the Spartans came out sharp again for the first few minutes, while the Lobos also again kept pace. SJS guard Omari Moore began his typical second half ramp up ending with 18 points and added some uncharacteristic tit-for-tat jawing with Mashburn to keep things interesting.
Also telling was the Spartan front court being held scoreless except for freshman Garrett Anderson dropping in 12 points in only 16 minutes.
But even more telling was the Lobos shooting 61% while its defense hounded the Spartans to only 31% shooting from the field.
Interestingly enough, with less than nine minutes in the second half, Lobos coach Rich Pitino put his starters back when the Spartans did show some signs of life. As little as it was, Miles raised the proverbial white flag shortly after and allowed his bench to get on the court.
“We’re going to have to be better against Nevada in every facet of the game next Tuesday,” pronounced Miles in what will be among the last four regular season games.
In all, it will still be deemed a long-awaited successful season for the Spartans either way, relatively speaking.