Xavier Thames was the hero for No. 21 San Diego State.
He’s the guy that hit a big three with three minutes left to push SDSU’s lead to 55-48 with three minutes left. He’s the guy that hit four straight free throws in the final minute to ice SDSU’s 61-57 win over No. 16 Kansas, the first time in 68 games that the Jayhawks have lost at Allen Fieldhouse. He was the leading scorer with 16 points.
Thames played his role as Steve Fisher’s closer, but he wasn’t the guy that won the game for San Diego State.
That title goes to Skylar Spencer, Josh Davis and J.J. O’Brien.
Kansas has become a team that is built around their post play. Lacking a true point guard and without the benefit of a killer in their perimeter attack, Bill Self has had to rely on the services of Joel Embiid and Perry Ellis on the interior to build his offense around. They’ve become the most reliable weapons offensively for the Jayhawks.
And on Sunday afternoon, they were dominated by San Diego State’s front line.
Ellis finished the night just 1-for-9 from the floor with four points and five boards. Embiid was 3-for-5 from the floor which is respectable until you consider the number of times that San Diego State’s big-to-big double teams nullified a post touch. Spencer, Davis and O’Brien finished the night with 30 points, 32 boards and seven blocks.
The key stat? Of those 32 rebounds, 16 came on the offensive end of the floor, with the trio combining for 13 of San Diego State’s 14 second half offensive rebounds. That led to 12 second chance points (19.7% of SDSU’s scoring) in the second half, many of which came on critical possessions down the stretch as Kansas was trying to complete their comeback. They were backbreaking, momentum-changing baskets.
And, in the end, that’s what won SDSU the game, because, for as poorly as Kansas played, they still had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds when Perry Ellis missed the second of two free throws.
All told, SDSU’s defense was stifling in this game. Kansas shot just 29.8% on the night, remaining below 25% from the floor until the later stages of the second half. It’s that defense that is going to win them games in Mountain West play. It’s that defense that is the reason they are probably the favorite in the MWC with league play having begun this week.
Xavier Thames was 1-for-9 from the floor in the second half. Winston Shepard was 2-for-7 from the floor in the second half. Those are SDSU’s two most potent offensive weapons.
And they still beat Kansas at Kansas.
Think about that.
One other thing to note: this wasn’t just a huge win for San Diego State, it was a huge win for the Mountain West Conference as a whole. The league did not do great during the non-conference portion of the schedule which could cause problems for the computer numbers. Given how strong the schedule is that Bill Self put together this season, this win is going to look really, really good for SDSU all year long.
And if it makes SDSU better, it helps the computer numbers for the league.