SAN DIEGO (AP) — San Diego State’s first game back in The Associated Press Top 25 was almost a loss in a spirited tussle with its scrappy crosstown rival.
Xavier Thames made four free throws in the final 12.2 seconds and No. 24 San Diego State escaped with a 65-64 win against San Diego on Thursday night after Duda Sanadze’s 3-point shot bounced off the rim as time expired.
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“From my angle, I thought it was going in,” SDSU coach Steve Fisher said. “He had a pretty clean look. He’s a good shooter and we had good fortune when it did not go in.”
Thames finished with 17 points and Josh Davis had 10 points and 15 rebounds for the Aztecs (6-1), who were playing for the first time since jumping into the Top 25 following their title run in the Wooden Legacy.
The Aztecs beat the crosstown rival Toreros (7-3) for the eighth straight year.
Sanadze made two free throws with 4.8 seconds left to pull San Diego within one point. Then he tied up Thames after the inbounds play, giving the Toreros possession and a shot at the win. Sanadze got a good look but his shot went off the rim.
“We were just trying to steal the ball because 4 seconds, that’s the only chance we had,” Sanadze said. “So we defended real good on press defense. We just got the ball and it was a huge play and we had a chance to win the game.
“It was a pretty good look. Coach told me I could take it again. I hope to make it next time.”
Said Thames: “They got me in the corner. I got hit in the eye a little bit, but it was a good play by them and I’m just glad we got the win. USD is a great team and probably will be in the NCAA tournament. This is the best team they’ve had in a while.”
The Toreros were out of timeouts before the final play.
“We were just trying to get the ball off the out-of-bounds play and either get (Sanadze) the pop-in or Johnny (Dee) coming off a screen,” USD coach Bill Grier said. “There just wasn’t enough time. I thought it was a really good look.
“Other than that ball going in, I really can’t ask for more,” he added.
SDSU outrebounded the Toreros 44-29.
Christopher Anderson scored 22 points for the Toreros. Dee added 21 and Sanadze 12.
Skylar Spencer and Dwayne Polee had 12 points each for San Diego State.
“That was a very, very exciting game,” Fisher said. “The play was not always sensational, but the effort was sensational. I know the Torero fans are going away disappointed, but they got their money’s worth. Both crowds should be proud of how hard the guys fought.”
SDSU led 57-47 with 6:30 left before going cold from the field. Its last field goal was Davis’ left-handed layup with 5:25 left.
USD rallied behind Dee, who made consecutive 3-pointers to help pull the Toreros to 61-60 with 1:37 left.
USD’s Dennis Kramer lost the ball out of bounds with 16.6 seconds to go. Thames was fouled by Anderson and made two free throws with 12.2 seconds left. Sanadze hit two with 7.4 seconds remaining, Thames made two more with 5.9 seconds to play and Sanadze sank two with 4.8 seconds left to make it a one-point game again.
“I was real calm,” Thames said. “I kept hearing my mom’s voice — `Take a deep breath.’ I wasn’t nervous at the line. I was calm, cool and collected.”
Thames and Polee made consecutive 3-pointers to help the Aztecs take a 47-41 lead with 13 minutes to go. JJ O’Brien had a big blocked shot and Davis made two free throws. Davis had a steal that led to Polee’s slam dunk, and Thames made one of two free throws for SDSU’s biggest lead, 57-47, with 6:30 left.
SDSU appeared to be pulling away with 5 minutes left in the first half when Winston Shepard converted a three-point play and Thames made a baseline jumper for a 25-19 lead.
But the Toreros outscored the Aztecs 13-7 to forge a 32-all halftime tie.
After Sanadze and Dee made layups, Anderson hit a 3-pointer and was fouled. He made the free throw for a four-point play. Dee hit a 3-pointer and Thomas Jacobs made a layup.
SDSU’s only scoring in that stretch was a jumper by Polee, single free throws by Dakarai Allen and O’Brien, and a 3-pointer by Polee.