It’s been two weeks since San Jose State (8-12, 1-6 MW) won a game in the Mountain West - a conference that’s catching national attention with ranked teams and feisty teams from top to bottom and where the “lower cast” teams can still pack a punch at any given time.
Case in point, UNLV (10-9, 3-4 MW) was struggling in the first half against the Spartans in front of 2,982 fans ready to see a win.
And it felt like a win was coming for the Spartans until the winning team played two-face pulling away in convincing fashion 77-65.
“We got Jekyll the first-half and Hyde in the second,” said Spartan head coach Tim Miles. “Whoever’s more dangerous, I don’t know.”
The Spartans scrummed and scrapped their way to a fast start with a 19-9 lead five minutes in. Doubling down on defense with two quick steals and a 7-0 run led by an aggressive Tibet Gorener, San Jose would keep UNLV playing flat for most of the first-half.
A Gorener three and Alvaro Cardenas steal helped keep the lead up at 25-16 ten minutes in. Gorener and Cardenas had 13 and 14 points, respectively.
Even when SJS went flat giving up a 10-0 run to the Rebels coming within three points, the Spartans second wind helped force a three minute scoring drought on UNLV with the Spartans up 39-32 to end the half.
UNLV continued their scoring drought in the second half with San Jose now up 45-35.
If perhaps a bout of overconfidence kicked in, the Spartans found their own scoring drought predicated by three consecutive turnovers. UNLV was now within two points.
“The whole second half became a grind for us,” said Miles. “They went super small and we couldn’t make them pay.”
Almost like clockwork 10 minutes into the second-half, the Rebels took the lead 48-47 on a 13-2 run. Miles trying to stop the bleeding called the obligatory timeout. The ensuing play found SJS forward Trey Anderson driving hard to the basket for two to take the lead back.
“UNLV found what would be effective for them tonight and ultimately and I felt humiliated in the second-half when they scored on 16-20 shots and scored on 17 straight possessions,” said Miles.
Temporarily trading baskets, UNLV highlighted their evening going 14 of 14 from the field the last 10 minutes.
SJS’ MJ Amey was the only scoring force late in the game until Trey Anderson’s fadeaway and three-pointer with a minute left. By that time, the game was out-of-hand.
Amey’s game-leading 18-points and Anderson’s 11-points rounded out the scoring.
“When a team like UNLV is committed to going inside, it’s difficult.” said Miles on the Spartans shortage of depth, bigs and bench play. “DJ (Diogo Seixas) is not a natural five-man and Adrame seems to be in foul trouble often. So, trying to manage all that, we’ll go into zone.”
Miles added, “We changed to three different defenses to try and stop what they were doing inside. UNLV could change their lineup and go small and switch and we couldn’t get by anybody.”
UNLV is not the first team to do that to the Spartans and they won’t be the last, as San Jose State meets the best of the Mountain West in Utah on Tuesday.