I might work at Stanford, might have been a manager for the basketball team as a student, might run through a wall for Johnny Dawkins or Trent Johnson, but I will always be a San Jose boy at heart.
The tenth-biggest city in the United States is my home. Despite numerous people suggesting that I live in Palo Alto to be closer to campus, the South Bay is where I stay (well, partly because I still live at home, but I guarantee you my first apartment will be in the 408).
So, naturally, as the champion of all things Teal City, I have a special place in my heart for San Jose State. During my sophomore year in college, I was almost happy when the Spartans took down the Cardinal football team 35-34, and seriously had a torn heart when our basketball squads squared off that November.
I can't say that I follow the Spartans closely at all, but I hope for the best for them. I was overjoyed when they got invited to the CBI last year even if it meant paying to play more games -- and even if their most successful season since their 1996 run to the NCAA Tournament happened because of the biggest black hole in college basketball (Adrian Oliver; nothing against the kid other than the fact that he was all of coach George Nessman's top five options and refused to pass the ball).
Without Oliver, the 408's own Carmelo Anthony, the Spartans have struggled mightily this year. They were 6-13 entering Monday night's contest against Cal State Bakersfield (look, Roadrunners officials, I know you prefer to be called "CSU Bakersfield", but it doesn't roll off the tongue very well, so I will continue with my use of "Cal State Bakersfield", thank you very much).
These weren't the Roadrunners of years past, who had served as a whipping boy for conference-affiliated Division-I opponents who wanted to squeeze an extra W into their schedule, either. At 11-9, Cal State Bakersfield (sue me!) entered Monday's clash with Sparty already achieving their highest win total in a season at the Division-I level. As much faith as I have in my city, I found it hard to believe that San Jose State would come out victorious.
At first, my fears were realized. Cal State Bakersfield started the game on a 23-4 run. It was almost laughable how much better the Roadrunners were in that opening quarter of the game. The visitors hit six of their first seven shots and attacked San Jose State's 2-3 zone with ease, getting into the middle of the zone and either kicking out for the wide-open three or continuing with the drive to the hoop.
Tyrone White of Bakersfield was absolutely smokin' hot to start the game. First he nailed a three over DJ Brown to put the Roadrunners up 6-3. Next, he drove from the left wing to hit a floater in traffic.
He was getting a lot of help, too. Point guard Issiah Grayson was getting his while also sharing the pie with everyone else, at one point feeding Rashad Savage for an alley-oop. Rod Barnes' Roadrunners were styling all over Sparty.
By this point, I looked at George Nessman and wondered how he had mustered the courage to not say "forget this" and head out of the arena early. He also, somehow, hadn't called a timeout, and let his kids play through an almost unbearable stretch to watch. Had I been a fan who wasn't planning on doing a write-up for the 800 Games Project, I would have given San Jose State one more mandatory timeout before heading for the exit.
When DJ Brown hit a three to finally stop the Bakersfield run, I was happy for the kid, but nowhere near convinced that the Spartans could get back into this game. There was no way their zone was going to be able to contain the Roadrunners.
Or so it seemed. San Jose State started collapsing harder to the ball on defense and began to turn Bakersfield over. Defense led to offense. Leading scorer James Kinney started to get things going with an uncontested layup followed by a straightaway three. Soon enough, the Spartans had made it a single-digit game.
Then it was DJ Brown's turn to get five straight Spartan points. Down to four now.
With a minute to go in the half and the deficit the same, I had to get up and call in to a radio show in Oregon to discuss Pac-12 women's hoops. When I finished the call, San Jose State had somehow miraculously taken the lead before the halftime buzzer sounded and went into the locker room up 36-35. And to think, the Spartans looked like they belonged in the Pacific West Conference instead of the Western Athletic Conference for those first ten minutes...
Sparty started out the second half by pounding it down low. Wil Carter was unstoppable when he got to his left shoulder, hitting a baby hook a couple of times. Stephon Smith used all of his 6'8, 260-pound frame to muscle in a couple of buckets in the paint.
But try as they might, San Jose State couldn't pull away, not if Adam Young had anything to say about it. Bakersfield's 6'8 junior was feeling it from downtown, hitting three threes in all for 17 points. And he was letting San Jose State know about it, too, vocal after each swish. The Roadrunners would grab the lead back at 55-54 with about 12 minutes to play.
And then DJ Brown decided play time was over for the independents. Nessman's redshirt freshman took his game to sights previously unseen. Three-balls. Mid-range jumpers and floaters. Penetrating and kicking out to make the pass that would set up the pass for an open jumper. I had only seen this kid play for 30 minutes, and I already liked him better than Adrian Oliver.
When Brown hit a second three in as many possessions to put Sparty up 64-55 and cap off a 10-0 run, the Spartans' faithful were uncontrollable. It was as loud in the San Jose Event Center as a crowd of 1,372 can get.
But, just like the Comedy Central special on Richard Pryor, the Roadrunners said "we ain't dead yet". Down nine with under 3:15 to play, the Roadrunners got a couple of three-point plays from Mo Hughley, who had been setting hard screens and calling for the ball all game without much success, and Issiah Grayson. All of a sudden, a three-possession game became a one-possession game in the matter of 69 seconds.
All the Roadrunners needed was a stop now. The Spartans bled the clock, moved it around the perimeter, dribbled some, and then it was in the hands of the main man of the evening. Could DJ Brown hit it (baby) one more time?
With 10 seconds on the shot clock, it was time for Brown to do work. He stared down Tyrone White, put it on the deck, stopped ... step back three ... GOT IT! Sparty up six with 1:05 left after Brown paid White back for an eyeball jumper the Roadrunner had over him earlier.
Thirty-three points in all for Brown, who had never scored 30 points in a game at any level. But when the Spartans needed it most, Brown showed what he could do for you.
78-70 Sparty. The WAC has been unkind to the blue, white and gold, but at least they were able to knock off a non-conference foe. Will this help them build momentum for their return to WAC play? Highly unlikely, but it's one more win closer to a respectable season.
at SAN JOSE STATE 78, CAL STATE BAKERSFIELD 70 01/23/2012
CAL STATE BAKERSFIELD 11-10 (0-0) -- J. Grace 5-7 3-6 16; I. Grayson 4-14 3-3 14; T. White 3-14 0-0 8; S. Carter 4-8 2-2 10; M. Hughley 3-7 3-3 9; A. Young 7-10 0-0 17; R. Savage 2-3 0-1 4; Z. Lamb 1-6 0-0 2; D. Johnson 2-4 0-0 6; I. Matip 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-66 8-9 70. SAN JOSE STATE 7-13 (0-5) -- W. Carter 5-9 4-4 14; D. Brown 9-11 9-10 33; K. Shamburger 0-8 3-4 3; C. Douglas 3-7 2-2 10; J. Kinney 4-10 0-0 10; M. Ballard 0-0 1-2 1; S. Smith 3-3 0-0 6; C. Jones 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 24-49 20-24 78.
Three-point goals: CSB 10-28 (D. Johnson 2-2; S. Carter 0-1; I. Grayson 3-8; A. Young 3-5; T. White 2-10; Z. Lamb 0-2), SJSU 10-24 (C. Douglas 2-6; K. Shamburger 0-6; D. Brown 6-7; J. Kinney 2-5); Rebounds: CSB 33 (D. Johnson 6), SJSU 24 (M. Ballard 5); Assists: CSB 14 (I. Grayson 7), SJSU 17 (K. Shamburger 7); Total Fouls -- CSB 18, SJSU 11; Fouled Out: CSB-None; SJSU-None.