Bigger isn't always better.
New Mexico State might have the tallest team in the country, but that's only gonna mean a cramped trip back to Las Cruces after the Aggies fell, 73-69, in overtime to San Diego State in the second round of the 2014 NCAA tournament.
It was the fourth overtime game on the day, which is a record for the Big Dance, per ESPN Stats and Info:
San Diego St. survives New Mexico St.'s upset bid, wrapping up the 4th OT game today: a new record for a single day of the NCAA Tournament.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 21, 2014
With his team having gotten so close, it's no surprise how emotional NMSU head coach Marvin Menzies was after the game, per Kenny Ocker of The Spokesman-Review:
"Now you know how to get out of an interview. Just start crying." New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies, fighting back tears. #NCAASpokane— Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) March 21, 2014
The fourth-seeded Aztecs had a definite game plan in mind. They knew they couldn't out-muscle the Aggies in the paint, so they looked to work from the outside in.
In the first half, San Diego State shot 10-of-26 from the field, which wasn't all that better than New Mexico State (8-of-26). The Aztecs did hit three three-pointers, compared to one for the Aggies.
What Steve Fisher's team did very well was harass Aggies shooters. SDSU forced six first-half turnovers, as U-T San Diego's Kevin Acee made the observation that New Mexico State probably hadn't seen defensive pressure like that all season:
Don't think New Mexico State is used to having everything contested in this manner.— UTKevinAcee (@UTKevinAcee) March 21, 2014
Going into the half, the Aztecs had a 32-20 lead, and it looked only a matter of time before they dropped the hammer.
Whatever Marvin Menzies told his team at halftime worked, though, as the Aggies stormed out of the gates to start the second half.
On the back of a 14-3 run, NMSU quickly got to within two points, 40-38, per SI College Hoops:
#SDSUvsNMSU Aggies use a 14-3 run to get within two. At one point, it seemed SDSU was going to run away with this one. Not so, apparently.— SI College Hoops (@si_ncaabb) March 21, 2014
The Aggies did hang around for a while, but they couldn't find the breakthrough. They'd get close, then a shot wouldn't fall and the Aztecs would go back down to the other end and turn a two-point lead into a four-point lead or a four-point lead into a six-point lead.
Eventually, San Diego State's lead swelled to 10 points with 3:27 to go, and at that point, you could tell it was game over. New Mexico State's players looked absolutely gassed. They had expended so much energy getting back into the game, but the Aztecs countered their best blows and failed to go down.
Then, with March being March, everything turned crazy. The Aztecs were choking and slowly watching their lead dwindle. It was a complete 180 from how the second half looked like it would end up.
The final sequence was a microcosm of the way San Diego State completely threw the game away late and arguably should've lost.
Renaldo Dixon hit an easy layup to get the Aggies to within three, 60-57. On the ensuing inbounds play, Xavier Thames coughed the ball up and let it go out of bounds, giving New Mexico State a chance to tie the game with 15.7 seconds left right under its own basket.
Kevin Aronis had an open three go begging, and then SDSU failed to grab the rebound, with the ball ending up in Aronis' hands. He didn't miss this time, tying the game at 60-60.
The Aggies went on a 14-4 run to end regulation, per SportsCenter:
HOLY BUCKETS! New Mexico State ties it vs. San Diego State with the LONG three. We're going to overtime! 14-4 run for the Aggies to end it.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 21, 2014
Give credit to San Diego State, though, as it regrouped and came into overtime like nothing had happened. The Aztecs quickly took control and never got behind.
The Aggies were ultimately undone by the underwhelming performances of their star players. They didn't have the depth of San Diego State, so it was important that Daniel Mullings and DK Eldridge went above and beyond in this game.
Mullings, who averaged 16.8 points coming in, scored 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting. Eldridge put up a bagel, missing all five of his field goals. If those guys make a couple more shots, maybe New Mexico State takes the lead and doesn't look back.
Contrast the way they played to that of Xavier Thames. The Aztecs' leading scorer was the star man for the night, with 23 points. Although he made only one of his seven three-point attempts and just six of his 17 shots, Thames knocked down his free throws and hit timely buckets.
When you consider Josh Davis and Dwayne Polee II were the only other SDSU players in double figures in scoring—and they combined for 22 points—you can see how important Thames was for his team.
Key Player Grades
Sim Bhullar, New Mexico State: B
If you ever wanted to see Andre the Giant play basketball, watch Sim Bhullar. The sophomore big man measures in at 7'5" and 360 pounds. On the TruTV broadcast, commentator Doug Gottlieb made the observation that some of the San Diego players looked like fifth-graders in comparison.
As you could expect, the Aztecs had little answer for Bhullar when he received the ball in the paint. He finished the game with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting. He also grabbed seven boards and swatted two shots.
Xavier Thames, San Diego State: A-
Efficient isn't the word that comes to mind when describing Xavier Thames' performance. Sometimes, though, efficiency must be sacrificed in order to get a high enough volume. Nobody was begrudging Thames for taking shot after shot, even if the majority of his attempts weren't falling. He'll need to be much better in the next round, but his performance was acceptable in these circumstances.
Josh Davis, San Diego State: A
Josh Davis played well above expectations in this game. He came into Thursday night averaging 7.7 points and 9.7 rebounds. Against the Aggies, Davis had a double-double, with 10 points and 14 boards. Thames couldn't do it all on his own, especially with how poor Winston Shepard was, so having Davis pick up the slack was pivotal for the Aztecs.
San Diego moves on to play North Dakota State on Saturday. The Bison overcame the fifth-seeded Oklahoma Sooners in overtime. They'll be a tough matchup for the Aztecs, especially with SDSU's performance on Friday, but Steve Fisher is probably happy he won't have to worry about game-planning for a team with the size advantage New Mexico State possessed.