No. 21 Aztecs hold off No. 16 Kansas 61-57
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — It was so loud inside Allen Fieldhouse that San Diego State’s players could barely hear what coach Steve Fisher was saying, yet they knew what the message would be as the timeout ended.
No matter the situation, it’s always the same.
"He just tells you to think something positive, whether it’s basketball, family, whatever. Think something positive," Xavier Thames said. "I think that really helps."
It sure seemed to settle down the Aztecs.
Thames scored 16 points, and calmly made four straight free throws in the closing seconds Sunday, helping No. 21 San Diego State knock off No. 16 Kansas 61-57, ending the Jayhawks’ 68-game non-conference winning streak at their venerable on-campus arena.
Skylar Spencer added 13 points and Josh Davis had 10 for the Aztecs (12-1), who have won 11 straight since losing to No. 1 Arizona on Nov. 14. That streak is tied for the second-best in school history, trailing only the 20-0 start of the 2010-11 team.
"Our coach never gets rattled," San Diego State forward Winston Shepard said. "He’s always even keeled, whether we’re up 20 or it’s a close game in here. After every timeout, he tell us to take a good thought out there."
Think happy thoughts? Why didn’t those other 68 teams try that at the Phog?
Kansas (9-4) still had a chance to tie the game when Perry Ellis went to the free throw line with 11.9 seconds left. He made his first free throw but, after San Diego State called a timeout to ice him, Ellis missed the second and the Jayhawks were forced to foul.
Thames made both free throws to give San Diego State a three-point lead, and the Aztecs fouled rather than allow Kansas to attempt a tying 3. Frank Mason missed the first and made the second, and Thames made two more free throws with 4.6 seconds left to seal the win.
"This is a great win for us," Thames said. "A lot of teams don’t come in here and get victories. I’m just blessed to be a part of this one."
Andrew Wiggins and Mason scored 14 points apiece for the Jayhawks, who had won 112 of their last 114 games at Allen Fieldhouse. Joel Embiid finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
The Jayhawks struggled against the long, lanky Aztecs right from the start, missing eight of their first nine shots and allowing San Diego State to dictate the tempo.
After a 3-pointer by Naadir Tharpe gave Kansas a 9-8 lead, the Jayhawks had just one more field goal over the next 8-plus minutes. Thames and Davis had no such trouble for San Diego State, hitting a series of jumpers and contested layups as the Aztecs built a 29-23 halftime lead.
Kansas wound up shooting 20.7 percent (6 of 29) in the first half.
"I think everybody, we all missed shots we usually make," Wiggins said, "and that’s going to happen from time to time with a young team."
The Aztecs kept up the intensity in the second half, forcing the Jayhawks to misfire on eight of their first 10 shots with their in-your-face, man-to-man defense. The lead slowly grew to 44-33 when JJ O’Brien converted after two misses, once more silencing a packed house.
The Jayhawks finally started to build some momentum midway through the second half, closing within 58-56 on a basket by Wiggins and 50-48 on Tharpe’s scooping layup.
It seemed as if every time Kansas went on a run, though, the Aztecs had an answer.
Spencer scored after Tharpe’s basket, and Thames curled in a 3-pointer to give San Diego State a 55-48 lead with 3 minutes to play. Kansas made one more salvo, getting within 57-55 on a 3-pointer by Mason and seemingly getting the ball back after O’Brien missed a free throw.
During a stoppage in play, the officials determined that the ball went off Kansas with 44.8 seconds left. And even though the Jayhawks got a stop, it cost them precious time.
Kansas coach Bill Self called a timeout with 20 seconds left and decided to go with Ellis, the sure-handed sophomore. He drove to the basket and was fouled, but the 72 percent free throw shooter could only make the first of his two attempts, and San Diego State eventually held on to win.
"Every play we made, it seemed like they came down, they got something positive out of the next possession," Mason said. "Whether it was free throws or a made basket, we just couldn’t get the stops we needed."