The first time these teams played, Boise State was a missed Derrick Marks jump shot away from giving San Diego State its first conference loss. Given the chance to return home and try again, the Broncos nearly pulled it off—only for history to repeat itself.
Dwayne Polee II hit a three-point jumper with five seconds remaining and Marks missed a game-winning three-pointer as time expired, while the No. 5 Aztecs dug themselves out of a second-half hole to score a 67-65 victory over the upset-minded Broncos on Wednesday (Feb. 5) night.
Polee, who had a relatively quiet six-point evening before hitting the biggest shot of his season, was able to propel his team to victory when the Broncos defense lost rotation while trying to contain Xavier Thames.
Thames, who scored a game-high 23 points, had been the star of the show up until those waning seconds. He scored 15 of those points in the second half, putting the offense on his back and, at times, single-handedly carrying his team back from a halftime deficit that was in the double digits for a good portion of the second half.
Down 59-46 with 11:48 remaining, Thames scored the final seven on a 15-0 run that lasted more than seven minutes and gave the Aztecs their first lead since the 18:13 mark of the first half.
San Diego State shot 58.5 percent from the floor as a team but continually shot itself in the foot with turnovers. The Aztecs gave the ball up 16 times, giving Boise State a series of early buckets in the first half of a game where possessions were at a premium. Both sides typically like playing a slowed-down style, so the Broncos' ability to get out and hit open shots had San Diego State playing catch up for most of the contest.
Boise State stretched a seven-point lead all the way to 54-41 with 15:07 remaining, thanks to three consecutive San Diego turnovers, and found consistent success in transition.
But once the Aztecs' offense buckled down, the good offensive times suddenly ceased. The Broncos went without a field goal for more than nine minutes during San Diego State's comeback run, coughing the ball up themselves and proving unable to hit a shot near the basket. While a Mikey Thompson layup and Marks jumper ended the drought and gave Boise State a 65-62 lead, they were unable to put it away when given the chance.
Boise State's last three possessions ended with missed Marks jumpers, as he finished with 15 points on 7-of-18 shooting. Leading scorer Anthony Drmic also turned in a nondescript performance, hitting only 5 of 13 shots en route to a 13-point, five-rebound night.
San Diego State was led by Thames and a series of supporting characters—and specifically by Thames' ability to get to the free-throw line. The senior guard made 10 of 11 shots from the charity stripe, his third straight game with double-digit attempts. His only miss at the line was a key one, though, as it allowed the Broncos to pull ahead 63-62 following Thompson's layup.
Josh Davis added 10 points. JJ O'Brien and Polee added nine apiece. Despite the scare, the Aztecs were able to keep their streak of more than 100 games without losing a game they've led in the final five minutes, per Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel. San Diego State (20-1, 9-0 Mountain West) has also won each of its first nine conference games and shouldn't see any ill effect in the rankings.
Boise State, coming off a frustrating loss to UNLV, has been defined this season by its inability to close out against tough teams. The Broncos lost by four to Iowa State and by a combined five points in their two games against San Diego State. Coupled with losses to Wyoming and Saint Mary's, the only way this team makes the Big Dance at this point is winning the conference title.
But following another day where they fell just short, one couldn't blame the Broncos for wondering "what if?".
San Diego State's road through the Mountain West won't get much easier. The Aztecs return home Saturday to play a Nevada team deceptively better than its 12-11 regular-season record. Boise State, meanwhile, shouldn't have that much trouble running through a Utah State squad that has a 3-7 conference record.
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