By Sandeep Chandok:
The day SJSU needed its players to step most, they did.
San Jose State University defeated the University of Nevada Las Vegas 76-72, yesterday, in a come-from-behind fashion to secure its tenth win of the season, a feat it hadn’t accomplished since the 2010-11 season.
The players who stepped up today? There’s quite a few — Ryan Welage, Jaycee Hillsman and a pair of freshman backcourt mates, Terrell Brown and Isaiah Nichols.
For Brown, it was his first career start at SJSU and he played with sheer poise, scoring 14 points on 6-8 FT while committing just one turnover. This was his second game in a row being an offensive force, after scoring a then season-high 13 on Wednesday in Colorado.
Brown’s backcourt partner, Nichols, hit the shot of the game — a cold-blooded three with 48 ticks left in the game to give SJSU a 73-68 lead.
“They grew up a little bit — they got better today,” said SJSU head coach Dave Wojcik of the freshman tandem. “They made plays they needed to make and it felt good.”
The Spartans (10-10, 3-6 MW) got off to a good start as they were exchanging buckets in the first period and went up by as much as four points.
Their lead quickly dwindled however, when the Runnin’ Rebels (10-12, 3-6 MW) switched to a zone defense causing SJSU to settle for difficult jumpers. Wojcik had an answer for his team on how to break the zone in the second half.
“We were kind of passing it around and taking easy threes, or tough threes,” said forward Brandon Clarke. “Coach just really said to get the ball in the paint more and that’s what we did and it worked out for us in the end.”
Clarke finished the game with 23 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks — another monster performance from the sophomore forward.
SJSU trailed 36-27 at the half and by as much as 11 in the beginning of the second half.
Then, the game began for the Spartans.
A 16-5 run put the Spartans up 56-51 and the game remained close from then on.
Welage had arguably one of his best games of the season logging 19 points on 8-14 shooting including a clutch triple of his own to give SJSU a 66-63 lead with 2:49 left.
“It was big. A three gives you a little bit of separation,” Welage said. “It was a big momentum swing for us.”
The Spartan win ended a three-game skid and now takes them into a bye week. Wojcik is giving his players a couple days off to get situated with school first and says the approach to the second-half of conference play will be centered on the same things it has been all season.
“Same stuff. It’s not gonna be any different,” Wojcik said. “We’re gonna to play a team its transition is a big thing. We’re gonna have to rebound.”
That team is the New Mexico Lobos and the Spartans will face them on Saturday, Feb. 4, in Albuquerque, NM at 2 p.m.