Considering San Jose State hadn’t played in the postseason in 12 years and was still looking for a breakthrough victory, its 75-52 win over Southern Indiana Saturday in the College Basketball Invitational carried a significance that belied the anonymity of the event.
The Spartans, seeded No. 2, handled the 15th-seeded Screaming Eagles with relative ease, taking a double-digit lead before the game at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Fla., was 10 minutes old and keeping its foot on the gas throughout.
“I think it’s very important for the image of our players, for the image of our program,” San Jose State coach Tim Miles said. “Let’s face it — San Jose State men’s basketball has been down for a long time and we’re trying to etch out a reputation for program support in the community, whether it be on campus or in the Silicon Valley. To do that, you need to do well.”
The game was a carryover of a season that has seen San Jose State go from 8-23 under Miles a year ago in his first season, to 21-13. Southern Indiana, a former Division II program from the Ohio Valley Conference, fell to 16-17 and was overmatched from beginning to end.
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 just nine shots but scored 15 points with eight rebounds, six assists and zero turnovers.
For Southern Indiana, guard Isaiah Swope had 16 points and Tyler Henry 10. Forward Jacob Polakovich, an All-OVC performer who was averaging 12.4 points per game and was among the national leaders with 13.0 rebounds, had just six points and seven rebounds against San Jose State’s interior defense.
Pretty much everyone got in the act for the Spartans, who will face either Tarleton State or Radford in the second round Monday. Ranked No. 6 in the country in rebounding margin, San Jose State 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 mostly without Ibrahima Diallo, their 7-foot center from Senegal who departed with a left ankle sprain nine minutes into the game, did not return, and is questionable to play in the second round.
The Spartans will have bigger aspirations down the road, but for the moment are just fine with a big win in the CBI. Not counting 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 1981 defeat 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 get the win.”
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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 tourney.
“You never know as a coach in the postseason how the first game is going to go, matter what,” Miles said. “Look at Purdue (which lost to Farleigh Dickenson) in the NCAAs. Our mindset was excellent. I thought we came out and we were who we are.”
Cardenas, who averaged 9.8 points per game coming in, said he was looking to be aggressive when opportunities presented themselves and liked the roster balance in terms of contributions.
“I tried not to force anything and make the shots that I had open, and I made them,” Cardenas said. “Sometimes it’s true we have relied on Omari too much and today we all shared the ball a little more and tried to be aggressive.”