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Xavier Thames leads No. 4 San Diego State to first Sweet 16 since 2011

Mar 22, 2014, 8:38 PM EDT

thames AP

It’s been the story for West Region No. 4 San Diego State all season long: when senior point guard Xavier Thames is rolling, the Aztecs are a very difficult team to beat. North Dakota State became the latest team to learn that lesson the hard way, as Thames led San Diego State to a 63-44 victory with 30 points and six assists.

Taking the points scored on the six baskets Thames assisted on into consideration, the point guard was responsible for 45 of the 63 points San Diego State scored against the Summit League champions.

Thames did much of the heavy lifting for San Diego State offensively, with his ability in ball screen situations proving to be too much for the Bison to handle as the game progressed. It should also be noted that the fifth-year senior had help in the form of junior wing Dwayne Polee II, who scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds off the bench. This is the fourth consecutive game in which Polee’s scored in double figures, and he’s a much-improved player for San Diego State since not having much of an impact during the first month of Mountain West play.

Counting last weekend’s Mountain West tournament Polee’s averaging 14.2 points and 4.6 rebounds in San Diego State’s last five games, and his growth is an important development for the Aztecs moving forward. If Polee can continue to have an impact off the bench, he gives San Diego State a needed supplementary option on the offensive end of the floor.

San Diego State’s win can’t be discussed without a mention of the defense, with the Aztecs making life difficult for Summit League Player of the Year Taylor Braun throughout the contest. Braun, who averaged 18.0 points per game, shot 2-for-14 from the field and scored seven points. San Diego State’s length was a significant issue for Saul Phillips’ team, with North Dakota State shooting 30.6% from the field and 2-for-11 from beyond the arc.

Yet even with the team defense and Polee’s contributions, it will be the play of Thames that sticks out for a San Diego State team headed back to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011. And with Thames leading the way, the Aztecs are capable of accomplishing even more.