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Aztecs need OT to foil Aggies’ upset bid

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Updated 11 months ago on
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SPOKANE, Wash. — San Diego State’s overtime win over New Mexico State was not always a thing of beauty, but Aztecs coach Steve Fisher had little to complain about after his team advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament.

“I told our players after the game, ‘It doesn’t matter how, it just matters, did you win?'” Fisher said after the Aztecs won 73-69 Thursday in the West Regional.

The fourth-seeded Aztecs (30-4) move on to Saturday action at the Spokane Arena against No. 12 seed North Dakota State (26-6). The Bison defeated No. 5 seed Oklahoma 80-75 in overtime earlier Thursday at the Spokane Arena. The winner advances to the West Regional semifinals at Anaheim, Calif.

San Diego State point guard Xavier Thames, the Mountain West Conference player of the year, made a costly turnover that set up the 3-pointer by Aggies guard Kevin Aronis that sent the game into overtime.

Thames also missed a runner at the horn that would have prevented overtime, but the senior scored five of his game-high 23 points in overtime.

The Aztecs blew a 12-point halftime lead, but Thames kept New Mexico State’s momentum in check.

“He’s a complete player, so he can beat you in multiple ways,” Aronis said. “I felt we did a pretty good job for the most part of making him take pretty tough 2-point jumpers. He had to earn it.

“He had a good game.”

Guard Daniel Mullings and center Sim Bhullar, two of New Mexico State’s key players, each scored just two points in the first half.

Mullings, the Western Athletic Conference player of the year, finished with 18 points (and a game-high seven turnovers). Bhullar, a 7-foot-5, 355-pound sophomore who was saddled with three fouls in the first half, wound up with 14 points and seven rebounds before fouling out with 3:21 left in overtime.

“The first half, we came out strong, played good defense,” Thames said. “In the second half, they came out and hit us in the mouth a few times. You’ve got to give credit to them as well.”

Forward Dwayne Polee II sank three of four free throws in the last 6.8 seconds of overtime for San Diego State’s final points. Polee finished with 15 points. Forward Josh Davis added 10 points and 14 rebounds.

Aronis, whose game-tying 3-pointer came with 5.4 seconds left in regulation, scored all 12 of his points on four 3-pointers.

New Mexico State made just 12 of 20 free throws. The Aztecs sank 21 of 27 at the line to make up for 39.7 percent shooting from the field. The Aggies shot 40 percent, including 51.7 percent after halftime following a 30.8 percent effort in the first half.

The loss was New Mexico State’s eighth straight in the NCAA Tournament, dating back to 1993.

“It’s depressing … to be able to fight that hard the second half and not get over the hump in overtime,” New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies said. “I thought we drew up some really good stuff, and we just missed some right at the basket.”

NOTES: San Diego State senior PG Xavier Thames, the Mountain West Conference player of the year, played at nearby Washington State his freshman year. Washington State is the host school of the second- and third-round games in Spokane. … Sim Bhullar’s younger brother, 7-foot-3, 335-pound freshman center Tanveer, is redshirting with the Aggies. … Attendance at the two-game evening session was 10,962.

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