TMM9 :: WAC Tournament First Round :: It Ended for SJSU

(This is the thirty-fourth installment of Bill Harty’s game recaps as part of The Mid Majority ninth season taking readers to mid-major college basketball games around the country. Visit midmajority.com to find out more about this group-sourced effort to spread the word about the many fine basketball programs around the country that are having success on and off the court while generally not having access to the resources brought to athletic programs by big-time college football. Bill will be recapping most Aggie home games, and the occasional road foray, for both The Mid Majority and bleedCrimson.net.)

It has been a long season for both teams in this game between the eight-seeded San Jose State Spartans (9-19 overall, 3-14 WAC) and the ninth-seeded UTSA Roadrunners (8-21 overall, also 3-14 WAC). The Spartans have struggled through several player suspensions. James Kinney, leading scorer for SJSU in fourteen of their first fifteen games, is no longer listed on the roster. Internet rumor predicted the firing of coach George Nessman weeks ago; new athletic director Gene Bleymaier, most recently at Boise State, is making a number of changes.

UTSA’s adjustment from the Southland to the WAC has been on a steeper curve than some imagined it might; the average RPI of WAC schools still ranks thirteenth among the 32 Division I conferences; not sure they will find it much more difficult in Conference USA (eleventh this year) next season.

The WAC has a round-robin conference schedule; ten teams is probably the largest a conference can be and do so, although I remember that until a few years ago, the MEAC did so with eleven teams. These two teams were scheduled to meet twice, and opened the conference schedule at the Convocation Center in San Antonio with a 80-67 San Jose State victory. The second meeting was to have happened less than a week ago. A roof leak at the San Jose State Event Center created conditions that the two schools decided were unsafe for play. The game was cancelled, and because it was so near to the end of the season, there was no attempt to reschedule it. As the two teams ended tied for eighth in the conference, their one head-to-head game determined that San Jose State would be the higher seed and the “home” team for this contest.

San Jose’s three conference victories came among their first four conference games; Kinney was suspended after the fourth WAC game, and after beating independent New Orleans that weekend, have lost thirteen straight. UTSA’s three WAC wins came later in the season, at Seattle (in January), at Texas State, and against Idaho (both in February). The Roadrunners lost their final two games of the regular season to Seattle and at Utah State.

Part of the fun of conference tournaments, particularly in the West when travel for cheerleaders, bands and such are always out of the question, is getting to see each schools’ band and cheerleaders. The SJSU band has always been enjoyable, even back to Big West days; UTSA’s also acquitted themselves well. Pictures of each band, and UTSA’s Title R compliant cheer squad:

UTSA scored the first couple of baskets and gradually, over the entire period, increased their margin. Both teams played zone defenses much of the night. The Roadrunners wanted to play at a faster pace than the Spartans, and demonstrated some excellent ball handling and ball movement. Third-team all-WAC guard Michael Hale made a great behind the back pass to set up forward Jeromie Hill for a dunk that made the score 14-8, UTSA. Edrico McGregor’s dunk in the final two minutes or so increased the UTSA lead to twelve; the teams then each scored again making the halftime margin 28-16 UTSA.

Guard Chris Cunningham (eight points) and forward LaVonne Pennington (six) scored all but two of the first-half SJSU points; the Spartans attempted 26 first half field goals, making only seven (27%). Hill scored thirteen for UTSA; guard Kannon Burrage added eight. The Roadrunners shot 37% from the field and made seven of eight free throws.

The second half scoring started very slowly; the game wasn’t slow, but the flurry of activity wasn’t very productive. With eleven minutes to play, UTSA had added twelve points to their total, SJSU just six. An 8-2 Spartan run closed the gap to eleven with seven minutes to play and it stayed at about that level , the teams essentially trading baskets, until there were only two-and-a-half minutes to play. The final seven points were all Roadrunners; the final score was UTSA 67, San Jose State 49.

Spartan leaders for the game were Pennington, with twenty-one points and seven rebounds, and Cunningham, with twelve points and nine boards. Four Roadrunners scored double figures; Hill made twenty-one points and got ten rebounds. Burrage scored twenty, McGregor fourteen, and Hale ten; forward Jordan Sims nabbed eight rebounds for UTSA.

As TMM readers know, it always ends in a loss, tonight for the Spartans. Nessman’s dismissal on Wednesday started the search for a new leader to take Spartan men’s basketball into the Mountain West for next season. The suspended Kinney joins guards Aalim Moor, Chris Jones, and Pennington in completing their eligibility with this season. UTSA’s departure for Conference USA will wait a couple of days; the Roadrunners will face top seed Louisiana Tech in a Thursday quarterfinal.