We here at MMM cannot contain our emotions. What a game.
A late pull up by San Diego State junior guard Lamont Butler sent the San Diego State Aztecs to the NCAA men’s basketball national championship with a 72-71 win over the Florida Atlantic Owls.
Taking the ball from the opposing free throw line to the SDSU baseline, Butler stopped — his foot just an inch from an unfortunate end for his team — retreated, and drove downhill before rising to take the shot that would cement his place into Final Four history, right in front of the Aztec fan section.
“The plan was to just get downhill,” Butler, said after the game. “They cut me off a little bit. I looked up and there were two seconds left so I got a shot I’m comfortable with and I hit it.”
And it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen that from him. An eerily similar win at New Mexico earlier this season ended with a game-winning shot from the elbow from Butler in Albuquerque.
In a game where all of the recent trends for SDSU went out the window, the Aztecs overcame a 14-point deficit in the second half despite a poor 13 of 22 (59%) effort from the free-throw stripe.
“[You] Just have to trust in your routine,” said head coach Brian Dutcher. “We made enough to win. Obviously you want to make them all. They missed a couple of timely ones, too, and that’s basketball. That’s pressure.”
It was a return to form for the Aztec’s leading scorer, senior guard Matt Bradley, who had 21 in the outing, accounting for four 3s, getting to the line and shooting seven of nine there. After three games in a row with under his season average, Bradley went out and scored 11 within the first six minutes of the game on his way to an outing that moves him to ninth among Division I leaders in points.
“ I just felt good,” he said. “I had two bad shooting performances these last couple of games. And I just got back in the gym. My teammates were encouraging me, my coaches. Spent some time praying, doing what I need to get right. I trust myself, most importantly. I’m thankful I was in the position to come through.”
While not coming through in the first half, a dominating second half for Jaedon Ledee was crucial for the Aztecs. His pull-up jumper with 36 seconds left in the game brought the Aztecs to within one was two of his nine points scored in the latter period on his way to a 12-point performance.
Another solid performance by Florida Atlantic’s Alijah Martin was almost enough to lift the No. 9 Owls over San Diego State, scoring 26 points on the desperate SDSU defense. No matter what matchup Dutcher threw at him, Martin found ways to score.
Martin contributed to a trend-breaking win for the Aztecs, who allowed over 65 points for the first time this tournament, pulling out the thrilling victory despite a poor defensive outing.
“We gave up 40 in the first half,” said Dutcher. “We cut the points in the second half down and we had a chance to win. Like I said, our defense keeps us in the game and then we make a timely shot, we can win one and that’s what happened.”
Even though they gave up 71 points, their defense came through when it counted. Senior foward Aguek Arop’s contest on FAU’s Johnell Davis was enough to get the ball back and set up the Butler for his shot for the ages.
The win here pushes the Aztecs further into uncharted territory, as they head onto the national final for the first time in school history.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s what I came here to do,” Butler said. “I’m glad the shot went in. I’m just so happy for my team right now.”
Monday can’t come soon enough.