Xavier Thames single-handedly carried No. 4 San Diego State to the Sweet 16 in a 63-44 win over No. 12 North Dakota State.
Check out the highlights from last night's game:
The point guard had one of the best showings of his career to help lift his team to victory:
However, he did more than just score. Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk points out all the contributions Thames made:
Thames has assists on three threes and three twos, one of which was an and-one. He's responsible for 46 of SDSU's 55 points. NDSU has 43 pts— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) March 23, 2014
Thames was quick to credit his teammates for clearing space in the middle of the floor:
Thames: "I got to give credit to those guys [guys setting screens] because I was getting into the lane pretty easy."— Neil Stover (@neilstover) March 23, 2014
On the other hand, opposing coach Saul Phillips had no answers after the game:
Saul Phillips on X Thames: "We're a good defensive team, and that kid did it to our best defensive player & our whole team looking at him."— UTKevinAcee (@UTKevinAcee) March 23, 2014
Josh Davis also had a strong day for the Aztecs with 13 rebounds and two steals to go with his six points. On the other side, Kory Brown was the only player in double figures for the Bison with 13 points in the disappointing loss.
The first half of this game was all about great defense, as North Dakota State could not keep up its early scoring. The No. 12 seed was up, 20-15, after the first 14 minutes, but San Diego State was able to close the half on a 15-3 run.
Aside from Brown, few players were able to do anything offensively for the Bison:
At halftime, San Diego State leads NDSU 30-23. Kory Brown has 9 points, but no other Bison has more than 3.— NDSU Basketball (@NDSUmbb) March 22, 2014
San Diego State did not have much balance, either, but Thames was certainly able to carry his squad:
#SDSUvsNDSU Xavier Thames has 16 of San Diego State's 27 points. No other Aztec has more than four.— SI College Hoops (@si_ncaabb) March 22, 2014
Entering the game, most thought Taylor Braun could have this type of impact for North Dakota State, but he once again struggled, as Brett Edgerton of ESPN.com noted:
North Dakota State's Taylor Braun is averaging 18 PPG this season. He's 4-of-21 from the field in three halves in the tourney.— Brett Edgerton (@EditorEdge) March 22, 2014
Braun finished with seven points on 2-of-14 shooting after scoring 11 in the first game of the tournament.
As the game continued, the Aztecs kept making it tough for their opponents to get off good looks. Andy Glockner of Sports Illustrated discussed the advantage on that end of the court:
NDSU's efficiency can't handle SDSU's length and athleticism. Good Thames showed. Aztecs by 7 at the break, but far from over.— Andy Glockner (@AndyGlockner) March 22, 2014
NDSU finished the game with just a 31.3 shooting percentage, including 2-of-11 from three-point range.
On the other hand, the Aztecs were making their difficult looks, according to Jason Whitlock of ESPN:
San Diego State is winning the degree of difficulty battle. Taking a lot of tough shots early in the clock. #stevefisher— Jason Whitlock (@WhitlockJason) March 22, 2014
This was mostly thanks to Thames, who seemed to take every shot for the favorites in this matchup. North Dakota State was able to cut the lead to seven points with about six minutes remaining, but this did not last as Aztecs were able to pull away.
The Aztecs then sunk the majority of their free throws down the stretch to ensure an easy victory.
While there was a great team effort on defense for San Diego State, there is no denying Thames was the star on offense. Head coach Steve Fisher discussed the point guard's value to the team before the game, via GoAztecs.com:
He's so important to everything that happens. Not only from what everybody sees on the game day, but his demeanor in the locker room, before the game, halftime, on the bus, after a game, preparing for a game. He makes coaches' jobs a lot easier with the way he goes about his work. He's been a joy to have in the program and he's set an example of how to do things the right way.
The 6'3" floor general was clearly a leader in this one, as he carried the scoring load even without his best shooting performance.
San Diego State will now advance to another Sweet 16, getting a lot of credit from Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports:
San Diego State will advance to its 2nd Sweet 16 in 4 yrs. Just another example of how you can build national programs outside BCS leagues.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 23, 2014
The Aztecs will now face the winner of No. 1 Arizona and No. 8 Gonzaga in Anaheim. Despite the strong effort by Gonzaga in the second round, Arizona is the favorite to advance in this contest.
That will be an exciting battle between two of the better defenses in the country. And the backcourt of Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell could make it difficult for Thames to get into the lane.
In that case, the Aztecs will need some more help from the rest of the offense to continue a run into the Elite Eight.
Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.