CSU’s men’s hoops team almost became the first Mountain West squad to lose to San Jose State (5-11, 0-4 MW) in over a year on Saturday. But some more last-second heroics from John Gillon and redshirt freshman J.D. Paige ensured their team avoided such a result. The Rams eluded an embarrassing loss to SJSU, which went just 2-28 and 0-18 in the MW last season.
With the Rams (10-6, 2-1 MW) trailing 78-76 in San Jose and mere seconds remaining in regulation, Paige ended up with a steal off a Jaycee Hillsman turnover and laid it in as time expired to force overtime.
On Wednesday night against UNLV, Paige had scored seven points in the final 48 seconds to tie the game, which set up his teammate Gillon for a game-winning free throw over the Rebels.
“He’s had ice water in his veins, he’s been playing so big for us,” Gillon said of Paige. “You know we’re not here without him. I just appreciate him. I grabbed his head at the end I was like, ‘Man, thank you.’ I give him the most crap out of anybody. He made me proud today.”
As overtime started, the Spartans regained control, taking a four point lead, 82-78.Once again, it was Gillon who rescued the Rams. With 10 seconds to go in the extra period, the point guard drove to the basket and finished in traffic with his left hand to push CSU over the top 85-84.
“I saw they were trying to press me at the end, and I saw they were shifting, so I was just looking for ways, going side to side trying to get to the basket,” Gillon said. “So I finally wiggled my way around and used my speed to hit the hole and go to the basket.”
SJSU regained possession and called timeout with 6.4 seconds to go in OT, but Hillman’s drive to the basket ended up rolling off the rim as time expired after the ball sat on the back-iron for what must have felt like years to CSU coach Larry Eustachy and his team. The look was clean and close to the basket, and Gillon admitted he didn’t play the best last-second defense.
“They ran a trick play, kind of, we ended up switching,” Gillon said. “They threw it to my man, he drove by me, which was pretty bad defense because I was in the help-side. And then Tiel (Daniels) saved me at the end and deflected his shot, and we ended up getting the rebound and winning the game.”
Gillon finished with a team-high 18 points on 5-for-11 shooting and a perfect 8-0f-8 at the free throw line to go with three assists. Tiel Daniels also had a stellar shooting game for the Rams, as he finished 6-for-8 from the floor and made four out of five from the charity stripe to finish with 16 points and five rebounds.
In fact, it was free throws that kept the Rams in the game during the second half. They reached the double-bonus with more than 10 minutes remaining in the game, and CSU ended up 24-for-27 at the free throw line. At one point in the second, CSU scored 12 points in a row at the line. SJSU went 18-for-23 on its free throws.
“It was awesome,” Eustachy said. “I’m telling you, that was one of the better wins I’ve had since we’ve been together.”
SJSU has not won a conference game at home in the past three years since joining the MW.
“That team is going to win games in this league,” Eustachy said. “I thought it could be today, I really did, I told their coach that (after the game). There are a lot of similarities and not a lot of differences between us and San Jose State. … There’s going to be people come in here and lose, and (SJSU) will also go on the road and beat people.”
While the win might have been one of his most exciting at CSU, it sure wasn’t one of the cleanest. Eustachy joked about the hectic plays, such as Paige’s layup at the end of regulation, in his post-game radio interview.
“I drew up a couple really good plays,” Eustachy said with a dose of sarcasm. “That last play that we ping-ponged it off three guys, and I called corner pocket off the eight-ball, off the three, and it went right to Jeremiah and he layed it up at the buzzer.”
The Spartans were led by Princeton Onwas’ game-high 24 points, as well as a 16-point effort from Ryan Welage.
CSU’s next game comes at home against San Diego State on Wednesday. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.
Collegian Sports Reporter Sam Lounsberry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @samlounz.