(center) brought San Diego State back from the brink with a one-man show to close the game. (Otto Kitsinger/AP)
Boise State banked in three-pointers from the wing and an expectant home crowd detonated in glee. Players smiled knowingly, like they understood full well the pixie dust sprinkled over sequences like that and nights like this. The Broncos were burying the fifth-ranked team in the country, and that was very good. Because there had been enough excruciating failures in close games this season, and everyone might spend a lot of time rocking back and forth, talking to themselves, if it happened again.
So it happened again, this slow drag across broken glass that became a 67-65 loss to San Diego State, which turned a 14-point deficit into Xavier Thames’ personal clinic on hostile basketball takeovers, with the Aztecs’ lodestar guard almost single-handedly resurrecting his team all the way until the moment he passed to someone else for the shot that made it 19 wins in a row.
That might have been the most traumatizing part of it all, really. Never mind the Thames three-pointer that made it a two-point game or the vicious spin and score in the lane that tied it, or the 18-footer that provided San Diego State a 61-59 lead with four minutes left – its first lead of the night since a 3-0 advantage seconds into said night. And never mind even the audacious thievery of Boise State guard Derrick Marks in the open floor just after San Diego State turned it over with a minute left, a steal that Thames turned into two free throws and a one-point deficit at the time.
No, making things almost unbearable was Thames driving in the final seconds to the shot everyone in the known universe knew he would take, until he flung it back to the three-point line. Where Dwyane Polee II gladly accepted the pass and drained the game-winning bomb with 4.2 seconds left. They call it a “dagger” for the piercing incision, presumably, neglecting to acknowledge that the blade can stick around and scoop out your insides for good measure.
Boise State’s five previous losses – one in non-conference play and four in the Mountain West – came by a combined 22 points. This made it six losses by a combined 24 points. If the Broncos were to be the first program to finish a regular season while competing in the fetal position, no one could blame them.
As for the Aztecs, who surrendered an uncharacteristic 51 percent shooting but used Thames’ 23 points to make it a 20-1 start overall? They’ll have a tricky one Saturday against a sneaky-good Nevada team looking to make a statement in its lone meeting with the conference leader this season. Survive that and San Diego State may take its win streak all the way to a Feb. 22 matchup at New Mexico, though it will be difficult to match the sort of brutal pain inflicted on Boise State on Wednesday.
West Virginia 91, Oklahoma 86 (OT). Thanks to the snowy and icy death grip winter has on the nation, the Sooners came to Morgantown the natural way – with a stopover in Newark, N.J. – and arrived less than two hours before tipoff on Wednesday. In that, rallying from an 11-point halftime deficit to take a three-point lead in the final minute was victory in itself. But since the actual victory went to the Mountaineers, it behooves us to talk about them and the opportunity ahead for grand success or a fade back into irrelevance. West Virginia has now won four of five. Next is a trip to Kansas, followed by a home game against Iowa State, followed by a trip to Texas. It’s a fairly daunting stretch that doesn’t even end there but Juwan Staten and Co. can launch into the upper tier of one of the nation’s most rugged leagues, or just fall into the middling middle of it.
Saint Louis 65, St. Joseph’s 49. And that just about does it for the Hawks, whose opportunity for a big surge fizzled much like the power to the homes of many residents in the greater Philadelphia area. They had won 11-of-13 and ideas of postseason play had been kindled, but a home win over a top 15 foe needed to be one of the logs tossed on the fire. Instead, the Billikens’ asphyxiating defense held the Hawks to 15-of-47 shooting and a miserable 1-of-15 showing from the three-point stripe. It was a thorough takedown and a school-record 15th win in a row and a reminder that Saint Louis very much should be considered a team with the parts and temperament to do some irritating things to brackets in March.
Pittsburgh 59, Miami 55 (OT). The Panthers and Lamar Patterson had a pretty gnarly week. What began with a visit from Duke and a chance to assert a certain superiority in the first run through ACC plan devolved into losses to Duke and Virginia and a bit of also-ran status in the push to a league championship. Patterson had been talked about as a possible Player of the Year candidate before shooting a combined 7-of-28 in the losses to the Blue Devils and the Cavaliers. On Wednesday, the senior forward dropped in 10 of his 25 points in overtime to cauterize some wounds. It was not a particularly artful night, and Pittsburgh still is two full games behind Virginia and three games back of Syracuse in the loss column. But it was better than the alternative, and redemption awaits with a chance (presumably) to end the Orange’s unbeaten season on Feb. 12 at the Petersen Events Center.
Purdue 77, Minnesota 74 (3OT).
The Big Ten continues to be more than a little strange, though a cynic might suggest a three-overtime game in which neither team cracks the 80-point barrier is quintessentially Big Ten and creates some order in the chaos. At any rate, the Gophers had the services of point guard Andre Hollins
, who returned somewhat surprisingly after a two-game absence due to a sprained ankle. Those services produced in a 3-of-14 shooting night and Minnesota had itself a third loss in a row while the Boilermakers
snapped a four-game losing streak. If the Gophers were to resuscitate their season, this was a good place to start, with upcoming games against Indiana, Wisconsin, Northwest
ern and Illinois that all seemed winnable to one degree or another. They still are, but this was one bounce on a springboard into a graceless face-plant.