After a day full of busted brackets and exciting games at the Arena, the nightcap between fourth-seeded San Diego State and No. 13 seed New Mexico State nearly claimed another favorite, in overtime.
The Aztecs prevailed, 73-69, but not after doing everything they could do become another March Madness victim.
The game was a duel between highly-regarded guards Xavier Thames of SDSU and Daniel Mullings of NMSU. They were each the Player of the Year in their respective conference and both were named to their conference’s All-Defensive teams.
“It was fun. He’s a great player. We knew that coming in, watched a lot of film on him,” Thames said of Mullings. “It was fun going against him but it wasn’t just me and him, it was a team effort.”
After fending off the Aggies throughout a back-and-forth second half, SDSU allowed NMSU’s Dixon to bully into the paint for an offensive rebound and score with 15.6 seconds left in the game, cutting the score to 60-57.
In their rush to inbounds the ball the Aztecs bounced it off Thames, and Kevin Aronis tied the game with a deep 3-pointer.
“That was my fault, that was completely my fault,” Thames said. “I took my eye off it and I thought somebody was behind me and going to foul me but nobody was near me so I take the blame for that.”
The first half of the nightcap was a snoozer, with the favored Aztecs (30-4) building a 32-20 lead. But Mullings scored nine of his 18 points as the Aggies (26-10) opened the second half with an 18-8 run to make it a one-possession game.
Thames – a point guard who began his career at Washington State before transferring in 2010 – switched on to Mullings in the second half and made enough plays down the stretch for the favorites to hold on. The former Cougar finished with 23 points, three steals and two blocks.
“He’s a complete player so he can beat you in multiple ways,” Aronis said. “I thought we did a pretty good job for the most part in making him take pretty tough, two-point jumpers. I think he definitely earned it.”
SDSU coach Steve Fisher improved to 24-12 in NCAA tournament play. SDSU, which had never won an NCAA tournament game before 2011, advanced past the first game for the third time in four seasons.