Since San Jose State hadn’t played in the postseason in 12 years and was still chasing a breakout win, Saturday’s 75-52 victory over South Indiana in the College Basketball Invitational had significance that belied the anonymity of the event. .
The Spartans, seeded No. 2, dealt with the 15th-seeded Screaming Eagles with relative ease, taking a two-digit lead before the game at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Fla., was 10 minutes old and foot on the gas held on.
“I think it’s very important to the image of our players, to the image of our program,” said San Jose State coach Tim Miles. “Let’s face it: San Jose State men’s basketball has been dormant for a long time, and we’re trying to build a reputation for program support in the community, whether on campus or in Silicon Valley. To do that, you have to do it right.”
The game was a carryover from a season San Jose State went from 8-23 under Miles to 21-13 in its first season a year ago. Southern Indiana, a former Ohio Valley Conference Division II program, fell to 16-17 and was outscored from start to finish.
Guard Alvaro Cardenas, a sophomore from Granada, Spain, led San Jose State with 22 points in 22 minutes, going 8-for-13 from the floor and 3-for-6 on 3-point shots. Omari Moore, the Mountain West Player of the Year, took only nine shots, but scored 15 points with eight rebounds, six assists and zero turnovers.
For South Indiana, guard Isaiah Swope had 16 points and Tyler Henry had 10. Forward Jacob Polakovich, an All-OVC performer who averaged 12.4 points per game and was among the national leaders with 13.0 rebounds, had only six points and seven rebounds against San Jose State’s home defense.
Pretty much everyone came red-handed for the Spartans, who will face either Tarleton State or Radford in the second round on Monday. San Jose State, ranked No. 6 in the nation by rebounding margin, beat Southern Indiana 50-25 on the glass.
Robert Vaihola played just 12 minutes and had 10 points and nine rebounds. The Spartans did all that good work largely without Ibrahima Diallo, their six-foot striker from Senegal who left nine minutes into the game with a sprained left ankle, has not returned and is doubtful of playing in the second round.
The Spartans will have bigger ambitions later on, but for now they are fine with a big win in the CBI. Excluding conference tournaments, San Jose State had lost its five previous postseason games—a loss to Creighton in the CBI in 2011, NCAA Tournament losses to Kentucky in 1996, Missouri in 1980, and Brigham Young in 1951, and a loss in 1981 against UTEP in the NIT.
“It’s super important,” Cardenas said. “San Jose hasn’t been the best team over the years and playing in the postseason is always great no matter what tournament it is. It’s been a long time since San Jose played a postseason game and we were really excited to to achieve victory.
For Miles, it was gratifying to see his team stay true to the strengths that enabled the Spartans to go 10-8 in the MWC and beat Nevada – which made the NCAA Tournament – in the conference tournament.
“You never know as a coach in the postseason how the first game is going to go, no matter what,” Miles said. “Look at Purdue (who lost to Farleigh Dickenson) in the NCAAs. Our mentality was excellent. I thought we came out and we were who we are.”
Cardenas, who averaged 9.8 points per game, said he wanted to be aggressive when opportunities presented themselves and was pleased with the balance in terms of contributions.
“I wasn’t trying to force anything and get the shots I had open, and I got them,” Cardenas said. “Sometimes it’s true that we relied too much on Omari and today we all shared the ball a bit more and tried to be aggressive.”