Las Vegas, Nev.-----For 30 minutes, San Jose State frustrated Western Athletic Conference champion and tournament top-seed Nevada with its double-teaming zone defense near the basket.
With 12 minutes remaining, the Spartans (9-22) had a 30-29 lead, but the Wolf Pack (26-5) eventually woke up offensively for a 54-44 win and a berth in the WAC Tournament semifinal round.
"I think our guys handled themselves really well. They fought them every inch of the way. We just couldn't make enough shots in the second half to stay right next to them. We needed one or two more shots to go down and have it a two or three-point game rather than a four or five point game," said San Jose State coach George Nessman about the Spartans' quarterfinal round loss.
The Spartans shot just 32.8 percent from the field in the season finale - the fifth game in a row San Jose State failed to convert 40 percent of its field goal tries.
Nevada's 54 points was its second lowest-point total of the season and only the fourth time this season the Wolf Pack failed to score 60 points in a game.
Both teams struggled throughout the first half scoring. The Spartans reached double digits on the scoreboard with 6:11 left in the first half and Nevada didn't get there until a Dario Hunt basket at the 4:31 mark tied the score at 10-10.
Nevada tied a conference tournament record for fewest points, but only trailed, 14-13. San Jose State had an 8:16 stretch without scoring and Nevada nearly matched it going scoreless for 7:07.
The Spartans' success offensively centered around forward Wil Carter and center Stephon Smith getting open inside. After getting into foul trouble within the first seven minutes of the game, Carter scored 16 of his game-high 18 points in the second half. The 6-foot-8 forward pumped in five straight baskets on six San Jose State possessions in the first four minutes after intermission. Smith added 7 points and was the only San Jose State player to make more than one field goal in the first 20 minutes of the game.
Guard Deonte Burton led Nevada in scoring with 16 points, 15 of them after halftime. After the Spartans built a 28-19 advantage, its biggest lead of the night, a basket by Nevada reserve forward Kevin Panzer preceded eight straight points by Burton on a pair of free throws and two three-point baskets that left San Jose State with its 30-29 lead.
"Burton didn't make a lot of shots, but he hit a couple of big shots in the second half with a guy right up in him. He made two three's in their run that really got them going," said Nessman.
"...They got us out of our rhythm a little bit, but we had some easy looks. It's tough to adjust to them, but, in the second half, we just picked it up on the defensive end and just continued to get easy shots," said Burton, the WAC Player of the Year.
"Tonight, unfortunately for us was a repeat of a number of games where we had an opportunity to do something special.
Nevada converted 59.1 percent of its field goal tries after halftime and finished with a 40.0 shooting percentage.
"We have a lot of young guys in our program and it showed at times. We definitely have a good nucleus going forward," said Nessman about the Spartans' prospects going forward.