Until Saturday night, generations of San Jose State students could not witness a win over rival Santa Clara at the Event Center. Sparked by an 18-0 run that began late in the first half, the San Jose State Spartans extended their winning streak to three by beating the Santa Clara Broncos 55-40 in this year’s Clash of the County rivalry game.
Isaiah Nichols and Ryan Welage led the Spartans with 12 points each. In a three-way tie for most rebounds, Welage grabbed five rebounds as did Brandon Clarke and Brandon Mitchell. For the Broncos, Matt Hauser had 14 points and a rebound, and Jared Brownridge, who entered with a 20.6-point average, added 11 points and four rebounds; Henrik Jadersten and Jarvis Pugh each grabbed six rebounds but scored a combined two points.
However, Santa Clara controlled the tempo early as Welage had a cold, 0-for-4 start and Clarke played just eight minutes of the first half. Although Clarke scored the first two San Jose State buckets for a 4-2 lead, he was benched with 12:18 left in the first half after committing his second foul. Santa Clara led as much as 19-10 in the first half and led 21-15 inside seven minutes to go.
“I wasn’t making shots from the outside, so I really just started going towards the basket more and posting up a lot more,” said Welage, who scored his first points inside the 5:00 mark with a layup that pulled San Jose State within 21-19.
Two unlikely free throws from redshirt freshman center Ashtin Chastain sparked a 9-0 run. Subbing in for Mitchell shortly before the 6:00 mark, Chastain drew Santa Clara’s seventh team foul while being held by Tony Lewis on a screen. Chastain sank both free throws on the ensuing one-and-one.
If Lewis attempted to foul San Jose State’s tallest player in a “hack-a-Shaq” strategy, it backfired. As a senior at Norco (Calif.) High School in 2014-15, Chastain had a .629 free throw percentage. In the Nov. 12 season opener against West Coast Baptist, Chastain made just one of six free throw attempts.
“He’s a skilled big kid,” said San Jose State head coach Dave Wojcik about Chastain, who played five minutes, his most against Division I competition.
Following a Welage layup, Gary Williams, Jr. and Isaac Thornton went a combined 5 for 6 from the free throw line to put San Jose State in front 24-21. Santa Clara had the lead for nearly 13 minutes before Thornton hit two free throws for a 22-21 lead. Prior to those free throws, Thornton stole a bad pass by Jarvis Pugh and attempted a breakaway layup but was knocked to the floor under the basket by Pugh.
Brownridge hit two free throws and a three-pointer to put Santa Clara back ahead 26-24 just outside the 1:00 mark. In the final minute, Welage hit two free throws and forced a shot clock violation by knocking away a Nate Kratch layup attempt. As time expired, Nichols cleaned up a missed Jalen James layup to give San Jose State a 28-26 halftime lead. Nichols followed his buzzer beater with a jumper on the first possession of the second half that stretched the lead to 30-26.
In his postgame remarks, Nichols said his buzzer beater “[gave] us momentum going in the second half.”
“Starting off, I wanted to get the guys going,” added Nichols about his jumper that opened the second half. “They gave me the opportunity…we pulled away from there.”
A runaway second half
Santa Clara went on a near six-and-a-half minute scoring drought as San Jose State built a 42-26 lead. After Kratch was whistled for travelling under the basket, for which his layup was voided, Clarke fired up the crowd by dunking off a lob pass from Nichols and drawing the foul from Hauser to give San Jose State a 35-26 lead. Welage hit a jumper that pushed the lead to double digits, after Jalen James swiped a loose ball away from Pugh.
“We really wanted to take them off the three-point line,” explained Wojcik about the defense, citing the statistic that Santa Clara attempted nearly half of its field goals from beyond the arc. Wojcik also praised James and Thornton for defending Brownridge.
San Jose State piled on with a 42-26 lead thanks to a James three and Welage jumper. Hauser scored Santa Clara’s first point of the second half by making one of two free throw attempts with 13:32 left and first field goal around six minutes later, by which time San Jose State had a 45-33 lead. A combination of takeaways, rebounding, and draining the shot clock by San Jose State effectively limited Santa Clara’s comeback opportunities for much of the second half.
A landmark victory
This win marked many firsts in a series dating back to 1910 and known since 2000 as “Clash of the County”. San Jose State now has 30 wins to Santa Clara's 79.
For the first time in 11 tries since moving into the venue in 1989, San Jose State beat Santa Clara at the Event Center. The last overall home win for San Jose State over Santa Clara was on Dec. 1, 1996 off campus at the San Jose Arena, now the SAP Center. Olivier Saint-Jean, who later played in the NBA as Tariq Abdul-Wahad, scored 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. From 1993 to 1999, the series was played at the San Jose Arena and was called the Mayor’s Cup.
San Jose State also got its first overall win over Santa Clara since a 74-68 road win at the Leavey Center on Dec. 23, 2009. Because women's basketball also beat Santa Clara on Nov. 20, this is the first season since 2009-10 in which both the men's and women's basketball teams had wins over Santa Clara.
Saturday’s reported attendance was 2,237, the largest for any non-conference home game in Wojcik’s four seasons as head coach and breaking the previous record of 2,123 from the Dec. 6, 2014 home game against Santa Clara.
“A lot of people are getting excited for our team,” said Welage. “They’re seeing that we worked hard and it’s starting to pay off.”
“We also knew it was a rival[ry] game, a big game [against a] close team down the road,” added Nichols.
The student section, moved from behind the visitor’s bench to across from that bench this season, was packed and loud from start to finish. Members of the baseball team led the students in singing the chorus of “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” during the final minute:
Praise for Santa Clara coach
Wojcik also praised first-year Santa Clara head coach Herb Sendek, who previously was head coach at Miami (Ohio) from 1993 to 1996, NC State from 1996 to 2006, and Arizona State from 2006 to 2015. These teams have made 18 appearances in the NCAA Tournament or NIT.
"[Skip] Prosser and Herb were really good friends, Pittsburgh guys, and [Prosser] always spoke highly of Coach Sendek," recalled Wojcik, who was an assistant coach under Prosser at Loyola (Md.) in the 1993-94 season and Xavier from 1994 to 1997.
Prior to Saturday, Wojcik and Sendek faced each other just two times, when Miami (Ohio) visited Xavier on Nov. 30, 1994 and Xavier returned the favor on Dec. 6, 1995.
"He's going to do well at Santa Clara. He's going to find a way. He's done it at every program he's ever been at," added Wojcik.