By Nick Avila
Brandon Clarke had his hands all over San Jose State’s game against Bowling Green, so it should have caught no one by surprise when his game-winning put-back with 1.2 seconds remaining was the difference maker.
Clarke led SJSU with 24 points and added 14 rebounds as Spartans overcame his foul trouble and a huge blown lead to hold on for a 76-75 win over the Falcons.
“I felt sick when he got his fourth foul,” Coach Dave Wojcik said. “We had to play basically 10 minutes without him there … Our other guys stepped up a little bit. We let them get back in.”
The Spartans (6-4) led by 18 at one point in the second half over the Falcons (4-7) after a pair of Ryan Welage threes and a Gary Williams Jr. trey as well, but, after Clarke was relegated to the bench, the wheels all but fell off.
Clarke, who had 20 points at the half, was a huge part of the team’s 25-5 run to end the first half as the Spartans finished the half with a 44-29 lead.
“I was feeling juiced,” Clarke said. “It feels good to score, it feels good to go on those runs because, for the time being, it just feels great just being with your teammates and your friends and just playing well.”
With 5:38 remaining in the game, the Falcons’ grueling pace allowed them to tie up the game at 63. From there, it was a back and forth dogfight between the two teams. With the game tied 68-68, the Spartans put the ball in the hands of guard Jalen James and he rewarded them on back-to-back drives as he drew a foul on the first, hit both free throws, and on the second, earned an and-one to give SJSU a 73-68 lead.
But, once again, Bowling Green showed no lack of fight. With eight seconds left they regained the lead at 76-75 and that’s when the Spartans drove the ball down court in a rush. James missed a layup but Clarke, like so often in this game, was there in the right place at the right time to tip the ball back in.
It was a slow start for the Spartans who allowed the Falcons to take an 8-0 lead before they awakened and got into the game.
Wojcik said he had to calm his guys down after his early timeout and reinforce their “keep chopping wood” philosophy in relation to how long the game was going to be.
SJSU guard Isaac Thornton made the first bucket for the Spartans almost four minutes into the half to make the score 10-3. Thornton, who drained a big three late in the game (which tied the score at 66) said the team earned a tough win by staying with each other.
“I think it’s just sticking together,” Thornton said. “Whenever you go up like that and a team makes a big run, it’s easy to just go apart and do your own thing and get away from the game plan … We were able to rally back together and start making plays together and playing for each other.”
Wojcik, who had mentioned how young his team was last year, thought this was a big win and a big learning experience when it comes to closing out games.
“We made a play. We made a stop down there,” Wojcik said. “We found a way, we gutted it out, we grinded it and found a way to win … Last year we probably would not have won that game, a year older, little more experience, those guys find a way.”
SJSU’s next game will come Wednesday against the Southern Utah Thunderbirds (2-9) at the Event Center in San Jose, Calif. at 7 p.m. It will be the last game for the Spartans before they open Mountain West Conference play.