The KFC Yum! Center finally got the thriller it’s been waiting for.
The San Diego State Aztecs inched by the Creighton Bluejays 57-56 after senior guard Darrion Trammell knocked down one of two free throws to give the Aztecs the lead for good with 1.2 seconds remaining Sunday. Creighton was unable to convert on a long inbounds pass to end of the game.
“I feel like I’ve shot probably 1,000 free throws in the last week,” Trammell said. “So at the end of the day, I feel like I put in the work to be able to step up and have the confidence that I was going to make them.”
Despite leading by eight early in the game, the Bluejays could not make it past the staunch Aztec defense and scoring just 23 points in the second half. San Diego State limited Creighton to 2-for-17 from deep.
“This late in the season on tired legs, neither team shot the ball particularly well, but we made enough plays and were tough-minded,” head coach Brian Dutcher said. “We’re a defensive-first team. Everybody knows that about us, and our defense carries us.”
Creighton’s star center Ryan Kalkbrenner gave the Aztecs fits in the first half, scoring 10 points on 5-for-8 shooting in the period. In the second half, SDSU senior center Nathan Mensah caused Kalkbrenner to go just 3-for-9, showing noticeable problems contending underneath.
“They were just trying to make me come forward so they could get him the ball,” Mensah said. “We just made an adjustment that Dutch drew where they gave him the ball, he gets played one-on-one because they have trust in me that I could do that job.”
The Aztecs welcomed s spectacular performance from Lamont Butler, who shot 8-for-11 in an 18-point outing that saw him sink two crucial threes. Trammell had his third double-digit scoring game in the Tournament as he dropped 12 points.
The catalyst for Dutcher’s team ended up being their incredible depth. Creighton coach Greg McDermott played his bench for a total of 16 minutes and they scored zero points. Dutcher’s bench played 73 minutes and scored 12 points.
“This is truly riding the guys that are playing the best,” Dutcher said. “It’s the end of the game. Guys that have played the best for the majority of those 40 minutes are in at the end, and that’s what we had. Then obviously we have offensive/defensive substitutions at times, but I’ve talked about the depth being our greatest strength. Depth isn’t a strength unless they embrace it, and this team embraces it.”
With this win, the Aztecs are the first team in the history of the Mountain West Conference to make a Final Four.
In the national semifinal, the Aztecs will face the Florida Atlantic Owls, who is also making their first trip to the Final Four.