SANTA CLARA, Calif. - With injuries mounting, Santa Clara men's basketball needed to rely on its crop of freshmen in the opener of a seven-game homestand and Trey Wertz delivered his best performance.
Wertz, a first-year guard, posted a career-high 33 points and five assists for the Broncos who shot a season-best 49 percent from the floor and went 25 of 32 from the free-throw line to claim an 81-70 victory over Jackson State on Thursday.
Josip Vrankic scored 19 and hauled in eight rebounds for Santa Clara (2-5), which led the entire game.
Jontrell Walker tallied 17 points off the bench to lead four players in double figures for the Tigers (1-7) who shot 51 percent from the floor, but only connected on 5 of 18 from behind the 3-point line.
A layup from Chris Howell, who scored 16, trimmed a 10-point deficit to 59-54 with 8 minutes left, but Santa Clara scored 10 of the next 13 and the Tigers, who shot 56 percent from the floor in the second half, never got closer than eight the remainder of the contest.
"I think there were a lot of positives," Santa Clara head coach Herb Sendek said. "One thing that we need to be better at is defense. Especially in the second half, they scored way too easily but we only committed 10 fouls, which is something we stress."
Santa Clara dressed only eight scholarship players and all of them saw action. The four freshmen who suited up accounted for 51 points
Making his first-career start, freshman Zeke Richards tallied a career-high tying nine points along with three assists.
Senior Josh Martin matched his season-high with 14 rebounds and posted six points.
Wertz connected on 9 of 15 field goals in the game, including 4-for-6 from beyond the 3-point line.
"Offensively, Trey had a tremendous game," Sendek said. "The most improved part of our team tonight might have been at the free-throw line and that took us a long way."
Venji Wallis and Justin Johnson had 10 points apiece for the Tigers who were out-rebounded 35-23.
The Broncos led by as many as eight points in the opening 15 minutes of the game, but the Tigers trimmed that to 26-23 on a jumper from Johnson.
Wertz answered with a 3-pointer and the lead grew to 39-29 when Martin nailed another 3-pointer in the final minute of the half.
Wertz's point total was the most by a Santa Clara freshman since Jared Brownridge tallied 38 against Pepperdine on March 1, 2014.
• Santa Clara and Jackson State met for the first time. It marked the second of three meetings for the Broncos against a Southwestern Athletic Conference program this season. They lost to Prairie View A&M in the season opener and face Mississippi Valley State next month.
• Wertz has scored 49 points in the last two games after posting a combined 28 in the opening four of the season.
• Fallou Ndoye is the latest addition to the injury list. He suffered a torn tendon in his foot against San Jose State (Nov. 24) and is not expected to return until later in the season. Juan Ducasse (knee) is out for the year and KJ Feagin (broken hand) is out indefinitely.
VIDEO | Trey Wertz (@_TDub3) discusses the team's performance in Thursday's win over @GoJSUTigers. The freshman guard tallied a career-best 33 points and 5 assists. #StampedeAhead pic.twitter.com/2sWzfDyqDy— Santa Clara Men's Basketball (@SantaClaraHoops) November 30, 2018
• The Broncos continue their seven-game homestand on Saturday against Northern Arizona. Tipoff is 4 p.m. in Leavey Center.