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San Diego State cripples Crimson Tide offense, move onto first Elite Eight

A masterful defensive performance from the Aztecs pushes them to the South Region final

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament South Regional-San Diego State vs Alabama
Aztec bench celebrates after an upset over the 1-seeded Alabama Crimson Tide. They will face Creighton Sunday.
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

The San Diego State Aztecs shook the majority-Crimson Tide crowd at Louisville’s KFC YUM! Center Friday night to the tune of 71-64. The victory gave the Aztecs their first Elite Eight berth in program history.

Darrion Trammell dropped 21 points in the win and reflected on his journey from Seattle University to now.

“Coming here, this is all we really talked about is win the conference championship, win the conference, and then conference tournament, and then make a deep run in March,” the 5-foot-10-inch senior guard said. “It’s a blessing to be here, and it feels good to see the hard work has paid off.”

A run at the start of the second half had the Tide up by nine with 11:40 left in the game, but eight straight points from Trammell had the Aztecs within one just two minutes later. From there, they took the lead for the final time on their way to a win.

“I was telling the guys that it’s March,” Trammell said. “We’re going to go on our run, and that — I truly believed that, and I just took the opportunities they gave me. I feel like the big was too low on the drop, so took my shot, and I made a play.”

On a night where forward Nathan Mensah had five blocks, San Diego State’s ruthless defense held the Crimson Tide’s fifth-ranked scoring offense to just 23 points in the first half on their way to forcing Alabama’s third-lowest scoring game of the season.

“Everything come’s easy to them when you don’t put them in uncomfortable stages,” Mensah said. “The guys that were driving, mostly left-handed guys, we made them switch to their right hand and then right-handed guys to their left hand, so it made it easier for us and I was able to come and clean it up thanks to our guys.”

Season-low shooting numbers from the Crimson Tide (32% shooting from the field and 11% from three) brought on by the Aztec defense allowed them to keep Alabama under 70 points for just the seventh time this season.

Alabama fans who were expecting a big night from consensus top-three NBA draft pick, Brandon Miller, were sorely disappointed, as the freshman forward was held to just 3-for-19 (15.8%) from the field, scoring only nine points, by the stark defense applied by senior forward Keshad Johnson.

“With guys like that, you just have to try to contain them,” Johnson said. “You know they’re going to hit shots and make things happen, and you have to try your best to make things as tough as possible.”

In a game where leading scorer, senior guard Matt Bradley, made just two FGs, the catalyst for the Aztecs was the bench scoring headlined by a 12-point outing from senior forward Jaedon Ledee.

“We’re not a one-player team,” San Diego State head coach Brian Dutcher said. “Matt is a go-to guy for us, but we’re deep. I’ve said that about our team. And so when he is not in the game, I’m not uncomfortable that we’re not going to have an ability to score the ball.”

San Diego State took 10 fewer threes than the perimeter-focused Crimson Tide, but the Aztecs scored twice as much from beyond.

The Aztecs will face No. 6 Creighton Sunday for a spot in the Final Four.