In the final minute of regulation West Region No. 4 San Diego State led No. 13 New Mexico State by seven points, looking to be well on their way to advancing to the Round of 32. However the Aztecs missed free throws, and when Xavier Thames fumbled a pass out of bounds with 15.6 seconds remaining SDSU led by just three points. That set the stage for Kevin Aronis’ game-tying three-pointer with 5.6 seconds to go, forcing overtime in a game San Diego State should have wrapped up.
Luckily for San Diego State the Mountain West Player of the Year would make up for his turnover, scoring six of his 23 points in the extra session to lead the Aztecs to a 73-69 victory. Thames did much of his damage from the foul line, making ten of his 12 attempts from the charity stripe to make up for a 6-for-17 night from the field. And regardless of what Thames was able to do from the foul line, when he struggles from the field San Diego State will struggle as a whole.
That’s what happened against New Mexico State, which used a variety of defenses throughout the night including a triangle-and-2 and a 2-3 matchup zone. After establishing some separation late in the first half the Aztecs struggled offensively for much of the second, with Dwayne Polee II providing needed production off the bench in the form of 15 points and six rebounds. Where would San Diego State be without the efforts of Polee? More than likely on their way home.
Perimeter shooting has been a concern for much of this season, however San Diego State has managed to win due to their ability to work the ball into the paint. New Mexico State was able to keep San Diego State out of that area at times, and once the Aztecs got in there 7-foot-5 center Sim Bhullar was waiting to challenge shots. However because of the playmaking ability of Thames and Polee, San Diego State managed to escape with the win.
But will that be the case Saturday against No. 12 North Dakota State? The Bison use the pack line defense, a system that aims to keep the opposition from getting into the paint. And given San Diego State’s perimeter shooting (6-for-17 3PT vs. New Mexico State and 23-for-71 over their last five games) of late, this could be a major concern for the Aztecs if they’re unable to penetrate that defense.
However in spite of this issue San Diego State has managed to win 30 games, with Polee and Matt Shrigley providing solid minutes off the bench. They’ll need to do so once again if SDSU is to advance to the Sweet 16.