The home finale for the best San Jose State Spartans men’s basketball team in nearly five years ended negatively, as the visiting Nevada Wolf Pack got the 82-67 win.
As is tradition, the home finale served as the team’s senior night. Brandon Mitchell, Isaac Thornton, and Gary Williams Jr. were honored in a pregame ceremony.
For San Jose State, Ryan Welage had 16 points, and Brandon Clarke was the only other player in double figures with 13 points, in addition to nine rebounds and five assists. Thornton grabbed ten rebounds.
Four Nevada players scored in double figures, led by Marcus Marshall with 20 points. The only Nevada player with double-figure rebounding, Josh Hall had 12 boards.
“[We’re] not going to beat a good team, especially the top team in the league, when you spot them 15 from the get-go and you’re trying to climb back in,” said San Jose State head coach Dave Wojcik.
In an unusual starting lineup, all three seniors were in the starting five. Thornton scored the first basket of the game, and Mitchell dunked for a 4-2 lead, before missed field goals, bricked free throws, and turnovers coupled with Nevada’s relentless offensive attack led to a 23-7 deficit.
“I haven’t started that lineup…they’re not familiar with themselves there,” said Wojcik.
Following two Williams free throws and a Thornton jumper, Leland King II hit a buzzer-beating three and gave Nevada a 47-24 halftime lead. Nevada shot 15 for 27 in the first half, while San Jose State went only eight for 31.
San Jose State shot more efficiently in the second half, but both teams initially exchanged baskets. Capped by a Clarke breakaway dunk that fired up the crowd, San Jose State went on a 9-0 run and pulled within 10 points with 10:55 left, as Nevada coach Eric Musselman called a timeout. San Jose State could not get any closer, especially after the 8:25 mark when Lindsey Drew scored a layup plus and-one to put Nevada up 69-55.
In his postgame remarks, Thornton thanked Wojcik and the San Jose State athletic department for giving him an opportunity to be a student-athlete.
“We’ve had our struggles here, but it’s been a blessing. I’ve matured so much as a man, and I’ve got to experience so many different situations and places that I would never have gone,” said Thornton.
“When I came here, I wanted to leave the program in a better place than when I got here,” added Thornton.
Wojcik expresses optimism for future
Despite the loss, Wojcik expressed optimism for the overall future for his program, as the team reached 14 wins for the first time in six years. He named two currently redshirting freshmen, Nai Carlisle and Keith Fisher III, as players to watch for the following season.
“Every year, I’ve redshirted kids, and I think it’s going to pay off,” said Wojcik.
The “core group” of players will return next year, and the team needs to increase its strength next year, he later added.
“A big, big statement is going to be made in the weight room,” said Wojcik. “…You want to win the league, you got to get bigger and stronger.”
Conference tournament implications
With this win, Nevada improves to 13-4 in conference play and is currently tied with Colorado State for first place. San Jose State drops to 7-10 and is tied for seventh with Wyoming, who hosts San Jose State on Saturday in both teams' conference finales.
Utah State has wrapped up conference play with a 7-11 record. Should San Jose State lose on Saturday, Utah State will win the tiebreaker and get the seventh seed in the conference tournament for beating San Jose State. To secure the seventh seed, San Jose State would need to beat Wyoming.
Nevada hosts Colorado State on Saturday in a game that will determine the sole conference regular season champion.