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Kevin Schnepf, Published March 22 2014

Xavier Thames guides San Diego State to victory over Bison with 30 points

SPOKANE, Wash. – When Steve Fisher was at the 2010 NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament Final Four in Detroit, he received a phone call that would impact his San Diego State program for the next four years.

It was Xavier Thames telling him he wanted to transfer from Washington State.

“It’s a funny business that we’re in, and you never know what’s around the corner,” Fisher said.

What was around the corner was a point guard who poured in 30 points to help San Diego State end North Dakota State’s season with a 63-44 win in the third round of the NCAA tournament.

Thames, the Mountain West Conference player of the year, was unstoppable as he made 9 of 19 field goals with four 3-pointers, while dishing out five assists.

“We actually recruited (Xavier) and were very disappointed when he chose Washington State,” said Fisher, whose Aztecs (31-4) advance to next week’s Sweet 16 in Anaheim, Calif. “He has developed his game where he is light years ahead of when he came to us.”

Thames scored 16 points in the first half, when San Diego State used a 15-3 run to build a 30-23 lead. His 3-pointer with 11 minutes, 30 seconds remaining gave the Aztecs a 45-34 lead. His shot from the wing with a little more than three minutes remaining made it

55-43.

The Bison, who were hoping their help defense would slow down Thames, could get no closer.

“I used a high-ball screen a lot,” Thames said. “I’ve got to give credit to those guys setting all those screens because I was getting to the lane pretty easy. And that was the plan, to get into the lane.”

Thames came close to surpassing his season-high of 31 points.

“Once a player gets on a roll, he’s kind of hard to stop,” said Bison point guard Lawrence Alexander. “He’s just overall a good player. We knew we were going to have our hands full coming in and dealing with him.”

While the Bison had trouble stopping Thames, San Diego State – which ranks second nationally in scoring defense – used its swarming style to limit the Bison to 32 percent shooting. That was 19 points below its nation-leading average.

Fisher said the key was stopping post player Marshall Bjorklund and Summit League player of the year Taylor Braun. Those two combined for 15 points.

“(Bjorklund) was a key for us. Don’t let him get by you,” Fisher said. “And then there’s Braun, and he’s big time, don’t let him get around you. Those were the two big keys.”

Another key was building a lead. After NDSU went on a 7-0 run to build a 20-15 lead, San Diego State went on its 15-3 run and never trailed after that.

“I watched this team when they had a lead. Boy, they play with confidence,” Fisher said of the Bison. “Getting that lead was huge.”


Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor

Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be

found at www.areavoices.com