Rounding up the sports schedule for San Jose State this Thanksgiving week:
Chris Cunningham recorded his first double-double of the season with 13 points and 10 rebounds, and the San Jose State men’s basketball team won its home opener and second straight game going away, 81-59, over Cal State Fullerton on Saturday.
The Spartans led 28-6 to open the game after Devante Wilson hit back-to-back 3-pointers, and really the team never looked back. Wilson finished with 16 points, and Rashad Muhammad and D.J. Brown each added 17 off the bench.
It’s the first 20-or-more-point win for the Spartans since they beat UC Davis in 2011 79-59.
The team is starting to figure this out earlier than expected, although they are still shooting poorly (just 37.7 percent in Saturday’s win.) It helped that the Titans shot a season low 37 percent. The Spartans also hit 11 of 28 3-pointers on Saturday, making 25 from beyond the arc in their two wins this season.
What happened to San Jose State’s bowl hopes? They got spiked in the end zone by Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds. Seven. Times.
Navy’s dual threat quarterback put on a one-man show worthy of Broadway on Friday night at Spartan Stadium in front of a national TV audience. He didn’t have to pass, or really, pitch the ball to his running backs. Most of the time, he just kept it for himself and took off. Who was going to stop him? No one, apparently.
Defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson talked a good game earlier this week to Jimmy Durkin of the Mercury News about following assignments when defending Navy’s triple option, something that was totally lost on the one assigned to follow Reynolds. He kept the ball more often than not (36 of 62 of Navy’s plays started and ended with the ball in his hands), and wasn’t contested. Especially in overtime, when, you know, contesting him would have been advantageous.
Still, he almost proved to be Navy’s worst enemy by running in his fourth touchdown when it might have been better for him to take a dive not unlike San Jose State coach Rob Caragher asked his defense to do. The Spartans’ coach told them to do it to preserve some time – 2:38 all told – for the offense to try to get a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to tie the game. The sophomore quarterback walked right into the trap by scoring, and gave the Spartans new life …
… Which the defense promptly squandered with an embarrassing performance in overtime.
The loss all but kills the Spartans bowl hopes after entering the season with so much promise. They still have a shot, but they are going to need a win against a great Fresno State team next week that is destroying bad defenses. Then, they need to hope they win the beauty pageant that is the picking system since there are likely to be seven teams eligible.
This week’s predictions for Saturday’s slate of Mountain West Conference games:
But the only team to hold Navy to less than 100 yards rushing in the Ken Niumatulolo era (70, 2012 against the Spartans) is not here, as Jimmy Durkin of the Mercury News points out. Many of the players who had big games last year have moved on or are injured for this game. Keith Smith, who leads the nation in tackle, missed that game with an injury.
That defense has been replaced by one that is among the nation’s worst run defenses, and was humiliated by a Nevada team that had nothing to play for last Saturday. The Midshipmen represent the Spartans last good chance to earn a bowl berth (Fresno State may not be unbeatable, but it’s not going to be easy and it’s best to avoid having that game mean anything.)
One thing is certain, the game plan the Spartans have carried the last two weeks will need to change. They need to slow Navy’s defense and have success on offense running the ball and really doing something other than lobbing long passes.
Here’s some key things to follow for Friday’s game:
San Jose State is going to do certain things that are just expected. The custom of a rebuilding season is that a team isn’t going to move the ball well, won’t shoot well, will be caught with their pants down on defense, and will lose. A lot. And it is the new coach’s job to make sure the young team learns from all of this so they get better next year.
Fans got a reprieve from the standard operating procedures of Dave Wojcik’s total rebuild, because few of those customary things actually happened Wednesday.
The Spartans (1-4) got their first win after being left for dead, as per protocol this season, trailing by 10 at halftime Wednesday against Pepperdine. They opened on a 21-10 run to open the second half, outscored the Waves by 16 points in the half to pick up their first win, on the road no less, 83-77 on Wednesday.
They shot a little better overall from the field and certain from 3-point range, played strong defense in the second half, grabbed rebounds and moved the ball some. And it all equaled a win over a decent West Coast Conference squad that entered the game undefeated (3-0).
The Spartans were 5-3 after beating UNLV, and have lost two straight. The Rebels have had just one win in their last four games (over a Nevada team San Jose State couldn’t be bothered to show up against), and after looking like a sure bet for a bowl game at 4-2, sit at 5-5 and must take care of business down the stretch to have a shot.
They both play early: UNLV with its last good shot to reach the postseason, the Spartans needing to take care of business against a tough team this week or a more difficult one next week just have a shot at a bowl game.