Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion. Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) is an RTC columnist and correspondent. He is covering the Spokane pods of the East and West regionals this week. He wrote this story after San Diego State’s 73-69 win Thursday night over New Mexico State.
Three Key Takeaways.
- Overdosing on X. San Diego State leans heavily on its lone offensive play-maker, guard Xavier Thames, who made his return to the Inland Northwest after transferring over from Washington State (now hiring). The senior had 23 points on 6-of-17 shooting and played 43 of 45 minutes, aided in part by late fouls from New Mexico State as they chased the lead both in regulation and overtime. Thames is the only Aztec capable of getting into the lane with regularity, which could be problematic if this team runs across a lockdown defender in the upcoming rounds. The Aztecs only shot 39 percent from the field for the game; the Aggies shot 40 percent despite not being known for their field goal prowess.
- Big trouble ahead? San Diego State never trailed in the game, but still were taken to overtime by a New Mexico State team that trailed 32-20 at halftime and had its starting center, Sim Bhullar, pick up three fouls in the first half. They missed free throws, blew defensive assignments, dropped an inbounds pass, and gave up two clean looks to the Aggies’ Kevin Aronis for tying three-pointers at the end of regulation (the second of which he hit). With a North Dakota State team awaiting that has a similar interior presence but is coupled with much better outside shooting, Saturday will be another difficult test for the Aztecs.
- New Mexico State is built to win big in a small conference. The Aggies’ bruising, offensive-rebounding-reliant style of play is great against WAC schools, as evidenced by its four NCAA Tournament bids since 2010. But this was only the second of those games that ended within 10 points (a 70-67 loss to Michigan State in Spokane in 2010 was the other). Their plodding big men are vulnerable to major-conference athletes and their guards oftentimes aren’t good enough perimeter shooters to punish teams for overloading on their big men. Or their INCREDIBLY LARGE MAN, the 7’5” Bhullar.
Star of the Game: Xavier Thames, San Diego State. His 23 points and five assists both led all players; he also had two blocked shots despite playing point guard.