San Jose State won its second in a row and third conference game of the season with a 65-53 win at home Wednesday over rival Fresno State. Neither team had much rhythm in the first half, which ended with a 24-23 San Jose State lead and the Spartans shooting just nine for 29 and visiting Bulldogs slightly better with nine-for-28 shooting. With this win, the Spartans improved to 8-15 (3-8 Mountain West).
For San Jose State, four players scored in double figures. Frank Rogers led in scoring with 17 points and made five rebounds, an assist, and a block. Brandon Clarke scored 14 points and grabbed 15 rebounds for his third career double-double, in addition to two blocks and a steal. Cody Schwartz and Isaac Thornton both scored 12 points each; Schwartz had four rebounds and an assist, and Thornton had three rebounds, five assists, and a steal. Cezar Guerrero scored 12 points and grabbed five rebounds for Fresno State, with Karachi Edo contributing 11 points and seven rebounds. Marvelle Harris, who entered the game third in the Mountain West in points per game with 20.5, made just two of 16 field goal attempts and scored just 7 points.
The first half had long scoring droughts, and Fresno State missed five of its first seven free throws. It took nearly four minutes after San Jose State took a 7-4 lead on an under-the-basket layup by Clarke for Fresno State to score three points and tie the game. Around three and a half minutes separated the two scores that generated the three points, a free throw by Harris and layup by Edo. San Jose State often allowed the shot clock to go down to 10 seconds before making moves to the basket. The snail’s pace of the first half had some exceptions. Clarke electrified the 2,000-plus strong crowd with three dunks. The first was with 9:05 left and followed a diving steal by Clarke and one-handed pass to Schwartz to avoid a travel call. Nearly a minute later, when the two teams abandoned the basket to scramble for a loose ball, Clarke ultimately picked up the ball for the two-hand slam. Then with 7:30 to go, after the officials awarded San Jose State the ball following a replay review, Jalen James threw a lob pass for yet another Clarke slam dunk, to put San Jose State up 16-9.
However, San Jose State struggled even with close-range shots and allowed Fresno State to go on a 13-2 run for a 22-18 lead with 2:09 left. San Jose State would not allow Fresno State to run away further than that, thanks to clutch threes by Schwartz and Thornton in the last two minutes. Schwartz’s three followed Jaycee Hillsman grabbing an offensive rebound away from Fresno State’s Paul Watson. After Edo made just one of two free throws, Thornton hit a three from the right corner against a tough, trapping defense of Lionel Ellison as the shot clock went down to eight seconds. A go-ahead jumper by Harris bounced off the rim as time expired, allowing San Jose State to enter the locker room with a 24-23 lead.
San Jose State scored the first points of the second half and stretched its lead to 27-23, after Ryan Welage scored a layup with an and-1 free throw. Fresno State responded with six unanswered points, one of which came from a free throw after a technical foul was called against the San Jose State bench. Clarke answered with a layup to tie the game at 29 with 16:53 left in regulation.
The teams would exchange baskets for the next three minutes before San Jose State took a 36-35 a minute later off a Rogers free throw and would never tie or trail again. A replay review voided a three-pointer by Watson that would have given Fresno State a 38-36 lead, because the ball left his hands after the shot clock buzzed. A combination of defensive stops and made field goals and free throws preserved the San Jose State lead that ballooned to 58-48 with around 90 seconds left.
San Jose State made 23 of 27 free throws, while Fresno State made just eight of 18. This follows a 15-for-19 free throw shooting performance on Saturday against Air Force and contrasts with the season overall .657 free throw percentage.
“It’s something we do every time in the gym, working on our free throws, and today it paid off,” said Thornton.
However, turnovers continued to be a statistical thorn, as San Jose State committed 15 to Fresno State’s 10 and had a 12-15 assist-turnover ratio compared to Fresno State’s 11-10.
“That goes back to execution on offense,” explained San Jose State coach Dave Wojcik. “We weren’t crisp. We weren’t making the cuts that we needed to make. We weren’t screening the guys we needed to screen to get other guys open. We just weren’t in a rhythm offensively.”
With a reported attendance of 2,324, this game marked the 160th meeting of a series that began in the 1916-17 season. Fresno State has an 84-76 lead in the series following the loss, and San Jose State improves to a 40-31 edge in home games. San Jose State enticed students to attend by offering free food to the first 1,000 students. The result of that promotion showed in the game, as the student section stayed packed and loud until the final buzzer.