By Daniel Reedy:
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA—Ryan Welage sat on the bench with his head in his hands as the final buzzer sounded, ending the Spartans’ run at a Mountain West title.
San Jose State was demolished by a Utah State team that just wouldn’t miss; the Aggies shot 58.8 percent from three-point range on the way to a 90-64 victory.
“I thought we just made a lot of really simple, easy plays that resulted in high-quality shots.” said Utah State’s head coach Tim Duryea. “And we knocked them down.”
MW Freshman of the Year Koby McEwen was perfect for Utah State from beyond the arc, draining 5-5 from downtown. One of those threes came just before time expired in the first half. McEwen finished with 27 points, a new program record for Utah State freshmen.
“The shot that I hit at the end of the half definitely got me going,” McEwen said. “Just to see the ball go through the net … that’s a good thing for me to see … I just gain confidence and anything can happen after that.”
The Spartans shut down the Aggies’ top scorer Jalen Moore (no. 5 in the conference) for the first few minutes, but after missing his first four shots, Moore scored 19 points, including a highlight-reel, one-handed dunk over the Spartans’ Cody Schwartz.
SJSU’s top scorer Brandon Clarke (no. 3 in the conference) was limited to just eight points on four shots. The sophomore forward made an impact elsewhere with two steals, two blocks, four assists and a game-high 13 rebounds — almost twice as many as every other player on the court — yet, it was obviously not enough.
Fellow sophomore Welage led the Spartans with 14 points, nine of which came in crucial minutes following a massive surge to open the second half by Utah State. The Spartans fought back to within four, but ultimately couldn’t keep up with the sharp-shooting Aggies
“We made a good run there,” Welage said. “I think we’ve fought the whole year, but came up a little bit short today.”
But this game was more than just a 26-point loss. SJSU went to the locker room with the game tied at 31. What followed was the biggest second-half defensive breakdown in MW Tournament history.
The Spartans conceded 59 points in the second frame — a new MW record — as the Aggies shot 63.3 percent from the field.
Moore’s slam came with a 17-point lead and seemed to be the dagger for an SJSU team that just couldn’t get open looks against the Aggies’ variety of defensive sets.
SJSU closes out its season 14-17, never grasping that elusive 15th win that would’ve provided multiple contract guarantees for Spartans’ head coach Dave Wojcik.
With all of Wednesday’s starting lineup returning, the Spartans will surely look to build off an expectation-passing season heading into next fall.
With contributions from Kavin Mistry.