Thursday, February 4, 2016

Fresno State Bulldogs 53 at San Jose State Spartans 65 (NCAA Basketball, Mountain West) - February 3, 2016


I'm in California for a couple of weeks to check out the five new AHL teams and to get away from the cold New York winter. Well, I expected it to be cold when I planned this trip, but regardless, it is still warmer on the west coast. The AHL schedule is weekend heavy, so to fill out the weekdays, I added some college hoops to the slate. Thus the first stop on my tour was San Jose State, home of the Spartans.



The SJSU campus takes up 18 square blocks in downtown San Jose and is about a mile from the SAP Center, home of the NHL's Sharks (and AHL's Barracuda). I walked from my accommodation in Japantown and approached from the north, fortuitously happening upon the Olympic Black Power sculpture shown above. Sports enthusiasts will know the basics of the story, but probably are unaware that Tommie Smith and John Carlos were both student-athletes at San Jose State. They were vilified at the time, expelled from the Games and the recipients of death threats, but time has shown them to be nothing but courageous. Arrive early to have a look at this impressive artwork and the other buildings on campus.



The basketball teams play at the Event Center Arena, a most unoriginal name but still miles better than all the constantly changing corporate monikers. Follow 7th Street through campus and you will see the building near the south end, with the ticket window beneath the marquee as shown above.



The main entrance is up a set of stairs that lead you to a series of doors (below).



As you might suspect, the Event Center hosts many other events so it is quite a bit bigger than necessary for Spartan basketball. The court is laid atop a cement floor, with chairback seats on three sides and a small set of benches at the far end that are used by a few students to harass opposition free throw shooters in the first half.



As you can see below there is considerable space between those seats and the court, so not a good spot to sit for anyone other than obnoxious students. The same goes for the seats in the opposite end zone.



The Spartans employ tiered pricing depending on the opponent. Rival Fresno State ranks as Tier 1, the most expensive, with GA tickets costing $16, a bit much for this level of hoops. When Tier 3 opponents are in town, the same ticket will be $10. The GA sections include those terrible end zone seats as well as the end sections on the sidelines, which are just as bad as they don't even face the court (below). Fortunately, ushers don't check, so you can sit where you want. The students sit in sections 13-15, which are the three leftmost sections in the photo below, so avoid those.



The photo above was taken just after gates opened, but by tip-off the student section has mostly filled up, though I think the announced crowd of 2,324 was a bit high. Note the special design on the floor, which was added in 2013 when the Spartans joined the Mountain West conference. In their first two seasons they went 1-35 in conference play with the win coming over Nevada on the road, so guess the basketball gods were not impressed with the garish addition.



Food is pretty basic and quite overpriced ($5 hot dog for example). SJSU students can use a separate concession stand at which prices are discounted by about 50%, and yes, you do need an ID.



Overall, I found the venue to be quite, well, spartan. There are a few old, worn banners (visible in the large photos above) but nothing else to indicate that this sometimes hosts sporting events.  There is a plaque honouring Bill Walsh (below), but this is next to one of the lower entrances and most fans will not notice it. If you want to see it, take the floor-level exit between sections 12 and 13. Otherwise, just buy your ticket, take your seat, and watch the Spartans try for a rare win.



The visitors were the Fresno State Bulldogs, my third straight game seeing a team with that nickname. They came in at 5-3, while the Spartans were 2-8, having finally won a conference game at home, beating Wyoming last month, and doubling that total with a win over Air Force on the weekend.



The first half was characterized by brutal shooting from both squads, with the Spartans managing a 10-7 lead at the midway point. That's 17 points in 10 minutes; fellow Bay Area basketballer Steph Curry sometimes gets twice that on his own. Brandon Clarke (#15 above) finally got the crowd into it with three straight dunks that gave San Jose State at 16-9 lead. Fresno State, realizing that outside shooting was not an option, made some layups to get back into the game, trailing 24-23 at the break.



The second half saw the teams trade more bricks, but on occasion the ball did find the net and with three minutes left, the Spartans led 51-48. SJSU's Frank Rogers missed a jumper, but Clarke grabbed the offensive board, only to have his layup bounce away. Yet again though, the Spartans grabbed the rebound and this time, Isaac Thornton made the basket, getting fouled in the process. Surprisingly, that was the last meaningful field goal in the game. After Thornton sank the free throw, the Bulldogs tried a three, but missed. Rogers grabbed the board, only to be stupidly fouled by Cezar Guerrero  (#12 above) with the Bulldogs in the double bonus. Rogers sank both shots and suddenly it was 56-48 with two minutes left.



Fresno State had been struggling from the line, so the Spartans smartly fouled to force the Bulldogs to shoot the 1-and-1. The first shot missed and when Thornton was fouled on the Spartans subsequent possession, he sank both to make it 58-48. Fresno State still had a chance to get back in it, but three more misses ended that pretty quickly. They continued to foul for no good reason, and San Jose State made their shots to make the final a rout-like 65-53.



The difference was free throw shooting: Fresno State went 8/18 (44%) from the charity stripe while SJSU completed 23 of 27 (85.2%). The Bulldogs were also dismal from the field at 21/61 (34%). Marvelle Harris (below) was the chief bricklayer, going 2/16. Not a pretty game, but a happy result to the Spartan faithful who deserve some cheer after those last couple of seasons.



Notes

Five years ago I visited a Sacramento River Cats game and sat with a group having a farewell party. It was a great experience and I became Facebook friends with one of those members, Syd, who is quite the sports fan. Although we did not keep in touch directly, I knew from this posts that Syd had graduated from San Jose State, so I idly wondered if he would be at the game. It was unlikely as he lived about two hours away but as I wandered the concourse, I found out that two hours is not that far as Syd walked right by me. He was deep in conversation with his girlfriend, and it took me a couple of seconds to realize that it was him, but I chased him down. He was pretty surprised to see me, but we caught up quickly and I sat with him and his girlfriend near the end of the game to talk about the new Sacramento Kings arena. Always fun to meet friends and acquaintances on these trips, but this one was certainly unexpected and made this visit even more memorable.

Before the game, I spent some time in Japantown before the game and was pleased to happen upon a branch of the Nijiya supermarket. Walking through the door is like traveling to Japan: overpriced fruits and vegetables alongside cheap boxed lunches and everything else that you might find in a small Tokyo grocery. What surprised me was the cheap Japanese beer, until I realized that it is actually brewed in Los Angeles. Anyway, if you need some Japanese food, check this place out, it is only a few minutes from downtown San Jose.

Next Up

I'm in Bakersfield for the NBA D-League's Jam, a truly exclusive sporting event. Then driving down to Ontario for the first AHL visit on the trip on Friday. Check back daily to see what I'm up to over the next couple of weeks.

Best,

Sean

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