Xavier Thames, No. 5 San Diego State snatch valuable opportunity from Boise State


Boise State entered Wednesday’s game against No. 5 San Diego State in need of a statement victory. Leon Rice’s team, having already lost seven games and sitting in the middle of the Mountain West standings, wouldn’t have many more opportunities for such a result with the conference not playing at the level it did a season ago.

And for much of the game it looked as if the Broncos would get that win, shooting well from three while also working to get quality looks in the paint against a San Diego State team known for making good use of its length on the defensive end. Boise State would lead by as much as 14 early in the second half, with Mikey Thompson leading four players in double figures with 16 points.

But then San Diego State’s Xavier Thames put together a performance that not only displayed why he should be (at this point) not only the favorite to win Mountain West Player of the Year, but also an All-American as well.

Thames scored 15 of his 23 points in the second half, but the biggest play made by the fifth-year senior point guard was an assist. With just over four seconds remaining Thames found Dwayne Polee II on the left elbow, and Polee’s three-pointer was the difference in San Diego State’s 67-65 victory.

The Aztecs, who were ineffective defensively in the first half, improved on both ends of the floor in the second half. Boise State shot a respectable 45% from the field but they also committed seven turnovers while assisting on two of their nine made field goals. Against a team with the defensive ability of San Diego State, such an assist-to-turnover ratio will prove to be problematic (eight assists, three turnovers in the first half).

Add to this San Diego State shooting 68.4% from the field in the game’s final 20 minutes, and the end result is the biggest comeback of the season for San Diego State. Clearly this is a big loss for Boise State and the Mountain West as a whole, with it looking more likely that one year after receiving five bids to the NCAA tournament the conference will get just two (New Mexico being the other) unless someone pulls off an upset in the conference tournament.

But this isn’t San Diego State’s concern, as the Aztecs picked up a valuable road victory with New Mexico trailing them by a game in the loss column. The biggest reason why San Diego State, a team picked to finish fourth in the Mountain West during the preseason, finds itself atop the standings is their point guard.

And it’s clear that Xavier Thames’ name needs to be mentioned when discussing the nation’s best players.

Boise State loses guard Harwell to torn ACL

Leon Rice
Associated Press
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Expected to be one of the favorites in the Mountain West this season, Boise State’s perimeter ranks have shrunk by one player due to injury. Thursday it was reported by the Idaho Statesman¬†that freshman guard Malek Harwell will redshirt after suffering a torn ACL in practice. Along with fellow freshman Paris Austin, Harwell is expected to be a key part of the Broncos’ future beyond the upcoming season.

Now, instead of competing with an experienced backcourt that includes four redshirt seniors, Harwell will work to get his knee back to full strength for the 2016-17 season.

Among the guards who will play significant minutes this season are Anthony Drmic, who took a medical redshirt last season, Montigo Alford, Mikey Thompson and grad transfer Lonnie Jackson (Boston College). Chandler Hutchison, who started in Boise State’s final 18 games of the 2014-15 season as a freshman, will also compete for playing time.

Knee injury sidelines Illinois forward Leron Black

Josh Hart, Leron Black
Associated Press
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Illinois will be shorthanded in its front court for the time being, as during the team’s media day Thursday head coach John Groce announced that sophomore forward Leron Black is out due to injury.

Black will undergo surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he’s expected to miss anywhere from four to six weeks. A return after four weeks would have Black back on the court just before the Fighting Illini open their season November 13 against North Florida. Any longer and the Memphis native would wind up missing some game action.

Black averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action per game as a freshman. He’s one of the players expected to contribute in the front court for the Fighting Illini, who lost their best interior defender and second-leading rebounder in Nnanna Egwu at the end of last season (guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in rebounding, is also gone).

In addition to Black and junior Maverick Morgan, Illinois adds redshirt freshman Michael Finke and grad student Mike Thorne Jr. (via Charlotte) to their front court rotation.