Can SJSU Basketball Use Near Upset Over No. 19 SDSU To Shift Season?

Can SJSU Basketball Use Near Upset Over No. 19 SDSU To Shift Season?

A deep-dive into SJSU’s conference slate

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Frustration must turn to momentum

WHO: San Jose State (7-9, 0-3 MW) vs. Air Force (7-7, 0-2 MW)

WHEN: Saturday, January 13th — 7:30 p.m. MST / 6:30 p.m. PST

WHERE: Cadet Field House

TV: Mountain West Network

STREAM: FuboTV — get a free trial

It’s surprising San Jose State head coach Tim Miles and junior guards MJ Amey and Alvaro Cardenas didn’t exhibit more glee in their press conference after the Spartans nearly upset No. 19 San Diego State 81-78 last Tuesday. 

SJSU has never won an NCAA Tournament game. The Aztecs, meanwhile, won five last year en route to finishing as March Madness runner-ups. 

So shouldn’t the Spartans have viewed that near monumental upset as encouraging first and frustrating second – not vice versa? In theory, yes. But Tuesday’s defeat was the latest example of how the Spartans (7-9, 0-3 MW) lost a game they could have won. With its postseason chances slimming, SJSU must figure out how to turn frustration into momentum. 

Just a week before the SDSU loss, the Spartans squandered a 17-point lead in its conference-opener to Wyoming, falling 75-73 on a buzzer-beater. Then, in its conference home-opener, SJSU fumbled a nine-point lead it held over Boise State with less than 10 minutes and wound up losing by nine.

SJSU felt frustrated last Tuesday night not because it played poorly. In fact, considering the talent disparity, that game could be considered one of the best of Miles’ tenure. But the Spartans method of losing is emotionally draining. 

Following the SDSU loss, Miles asked rhetorically “‘Do you let it [frustration] suck the life out of you? … Or use it [frustration] to make yourself stronger and more resilient?’”

Could Miles’ sentiment also be that of a coach whose team entered conference play with a penchant for struggling to finish games?

In SJSU’s six non-conference losses, it outscored its opponent following the first half just once. Now, the defeat to Texas Tech (No. 31 in NET) can be forgiven. But what about the losses to Cal Poly (No. 327 in NET) and Abilene Christian (No. 255 in NET)? 

In doing so, it hinted that what’s happening now could’ve been seen from far away. 

Miles should know. After the Cal Poly loss he said, “You hope it’s not a symptom of a larger problem in the program or an unwillingness to build on a lead and play the type of defense necessary to win tough-minded games.”

Months later, those words are hauntingly prophetic. 

But the Spartans inability to “play the type of defense necessary to win tough-minded games” isn’t perplexing. 

After all, they entered this season without 2022-23 Mountain West Player of the Year Omari Moore and last year’s frontcourt of center Ibrahima Diallo (transferred), power forward Sage Tolbert (graduated) and power forward Robert Vaihola who sustained a season-ending injury this offseason. 

Their replacements haven’t come close to matching their production. Though Washington State transfer Adrame Diongue averages the second most blocks per game (1.6) in the conference, his inability to stay out of foul trouble and staggering 38.2 free throw percentage limits his crunch time minutes.  

Power forwards sophomore William Humer and freshman Diogo “DJ” Seixas haven’t made contributions required for SJSU to command the paint. In the Wyoming loss SJSU was outscored 36-20 in the paint. After that, Broncos’ power forward O’mar Stanley went for 30 points and 11 rebounds and SDSU’s Jaedon LeDee netted 31 points and 10 rebounds. 

This doesn’t mean Diongue, Humer and Seixas are bad. This is just what happens when inexperienced players are thrust into major roles they may not be ready for.

This loaded Mountain West, however, will offer no sympathy. 

But to take a step back, is all of this far too harsh and grim of an outlook? Shouldn’t the SDSU defeat vault — not crater — SJSU’s CBI chances? 

That’s what makes it so difficult to predict SJSU’s future. To definitively say the SDSU loss will vault SJSU is to be too much of a prisoner of the moment. To definitively say that loss will crater SJSU is to unjustly give up on a team dripping in promise.

Amey’s 15.3 points per game is good for top-10 in the conference and Cardenas has paired his 14.1 points per game with 5.7 assists – fifth-most in the conference. The pair’s 20-point performances against SDSU is just the latest example of how they’ve taken that pivotal third-year leap. 

And don’t let the Spartans inability to close games fool you into thinking they are incompetent. Evidenced by how they turned the ball over 11 times against Wyoming, seven times against BSU and 10 times against SDSU. As a result, SJSU has averaged the second-fewest turnovers per game (10.4) in the Mountain West.

If the Spartans can find a way to match their first half effort with their second half effort, they can win nine of their next 15 games to clinch the .500 record necessary for CBI eligibility. 

“I’ve been saying we can play with anybody in the country,” Amey said after the SDSU game.

If there’s one thing SJSU can’t play with — it’s time. And if there’s any time for a seismic shift, it’s this Saturday night at Air Force (No. 232 in NET) and next Tuesday night at Fresno State (No. 245 in NET). 

With wins over the Mountain West’s lowest-ranking NET teams, SJSU can quickly erase the sting of the 0-3 conference start. Not to mention the momentum required to attack a six-game slate afterward featuring four teams in the top-40 of the NET and five in the top-100. 

“We can lose to anybody in this league, but I think we have proven we can beat anybody in this league, too,” Miles said.  

Story originally appeared on Mountain West Wire