Despite strong first half, San Jose State falls 81-64 to No. 15 Saint Mary's

San Jose State lost its first road game of the season at No. 15 Saint Mary's.

MORAGA, Calif. -- Despite a 43-40 halftime deficit, San Jose State could not finish its upset bid as No. 15 Saint Mary's beat the Spartans 81-64 on Tuesday night.

Ryan Welage scored 17 points and grabbed five rebounds. Two other Spartans scored in double figures: Jaycee Hillsman with a career-high 16 points and Brandon Clarke with 14.

For the Gaels, Jock Landale scored 24 points on nine-for-10 shooting, in addition to seven rebounds and three assists. Calvin Hermanson and Emmett Naar each had 16 points; Naar also made five rebounds and four assists.

San Jose State head coach Dave Wojcik said that this game against a top-25 opponent was an "opportunity" and "good measuring stick" for his team.

"That's life. You're always going to have to prove yourself," said Wojcik.

Hermanson hit a layup over Hillsman for Saint Mary's to take a 2-0 lead, but Welage responded with a three-pointer. Much of the first half was tight, with 11 lead changes and seven ties. Saint Mary's gained ground after two consecutive fouls on San Jose State, the first on Jalen James that preceded two Landale free throws, then a Brandon Mitchell offensive foul preceded a Naar jumper that stretched the Saint Mary's lead to 19-14 with 12:06 remaining. 

Although San Jose State took a 26-25 lead with just over seven minutes to go from a Clarke layup and the and-1 free throw, Mitchell passed the ball right in the hands of Hermanson, who hit a three to put Saint Mary's back on top 28-26. With around 2:30 to go in the first half, Saint Mary's ran away to a 39-31 lead off a Landale jumper. San Jose State responded in the final 2:13 with nine points from Hillsman, including six from free throws. Saint Mary's scored just four points in that same time span.

San Jose State pulled within 43-42 shortly after the first minute of the second half off a Clarke jumper. A James turnover followed by a Naar three-pointer upped Saint Mary's to a 51-46 lead, but sophomore guard EJ Boyce, a junior college transfer, sank an open corner three to pull San Jose State within 51-49. Hermanson responded with his own three to put Saint Mary's ahead 54-49. Although Welage his a jumper to shrink the deficit to 54-51, within seconds the score became 58-51 with 14:01 to go after Clarke was called for combined personal and technical fouls after fouling Naar and swearing. Clarke reached four fouls and was immediately benched. Naar and Landale hit all four of their combined free throw attempts.

"I reacted to the call in a way that I shouldn't have," admitted Clarke, who added that his language was not directed towards the officials, who still heard his words regardless.

Wojcik praised Clarke's emotion and response to being benched.

"You have to be able to channel that emotion in the right direction," said Wojcik about Clarke's reaction to the personal foul call that led to the technical foul.

Without Clarke, the offense fell flat. Welage hit a layup with 13:13 to go to put San Jose State within 58-53, but San Jose State would go scoreless for nearly four minutes, while Saint Mary's scored 14 unanswered points for its largest lead of the night, 72-53. Clarke returned to the game with 10:16 left and San Jose State down 67-53. 

As was the case in the past two losses to Portland and Denver, San Jose State gave up a field goal percentage of over 50% to the opponent and often had opponents blow past guards or hitting wide-open three-point shots. However, San Jose State made 11 of 12 free throw attempts, had its best field goal percentage against Division I competition at 43.6%, and had 26 rebounds to Saint Mary's 31.

"What's incredible is that we held [Saint Mary's] to 55 [percent], compared to what we did [Thursday] night against Denver, 67 percent," said Wojcik, who pointed out that Saint Mary's is ranked fifth in Division I for offensive efficiency. "So we just gotta continue to work on [defense], continue to make it a priority, [and] continue to contest shots."

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