SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — New Mexico State earned a little slice of history by taking San Diego State to overtime.
Little consolation on a night that was more frustrating than gratifying.
The Aggies lost 73-69 in the record fourth OT game of the first full day of the NCAA tournament. Kevin Aronis tied the game at 60 with a 3-pointer to force the extra session.
But the last 5 minutes of Thursday’s game played out a lot like the first 40. Despite all that heart and grit, the 13th-seeded Aggies (26-10) didn’t lead once.
“It’s depressing is what it is,” coach Marvin Menzies said. “To be able to fight that hard the second half and not get over the hump in overtime. I thought we drew up some really good stuff and we just missed some right at the basket.”
Xavier Thames scored the first basket of overtime and made three of four free throws at the end of the extra session to help the Aztecs (30-4) advance to Saturday’s third-round West Region game against North Dakota State. Earlier in the day, the Bison beat Oklahoma 80-75 — in overtime, of course.
Thames had 23 points for the Aztecs, who let a 14-point lead slip away and needed an extra 5 minutes to get the job done.
“All that matters is we got the win,” Thames said.
Holding a five-point lead with 32 seconds left, the Aztecs let Renaldo Dixon score to make it 60-57 with 16.9 remaining.
An inbounds pass and a few free throws were all they needed to wrap things up.
Not quite that easy, especially not on this day.
Thames mishandled the inbounds pass and, after a timeout, the Aggies worked the ball to Aronis, who missed his first try, but got it back after an offensive rebound and made the 3-pointer to tie it. Thames had a chance to win but his shot rimmed out, and off to overtime they went.
“It’s the tournament, so everybody is going to bring their best punch,” San Diego State’s Dwayne Polee said. “They punched us in the mouth in the second half but we took it to OT and fought even harder.”
The Aggies joined Oklahoma, Saint Joseph’s and North Carolina State as overtime losers on the first full day of the tournament. The last time there had been as many as three overtimes in one day was March 20, 2010. If there’s a single overtime in any of Friday’s 16 games, the record for the most OT games in the round of 64 will be broken.
This one didn’t appear headed that way.
San Diego State built a 14-point lead early in the second half, in large part because New Mexico State’s big man, 7-foot-5, 355-pound Sim Bhullar, spent most of the first half on the bench. With Bhullar back in the game, the Aggies’ offense started clicking again. He and Daniel Mullings connected repeatedly in chipping the deficit to 44-42 after a 22-10 run.
“It was everything I expected,” Aztecs forward Skylar Spencer said of the challenge of covering Bhullar. “But you don’t really get a taste of it unless you play against him.”
Thames made three straight baskets for the Aztecs to build the lead back to six. It looked as though they would grind the game away from there.
Instead, they had to work overtime, and San Diego State started pulling away when Bhullar fouled out with 3:21 left in the extra session. The big fella finished with 14 points and seven rebounds, and Mullings scored 18 for the Aggies.
“The fight’s never over ’til the clock hits zero,” Bhullar said. “So we just came out in the second half and played our hearts out and took it into overtime.”