That was all that separated the San Diego State Aztecs from tying the score late in the national championship game, pulling off another comeback in an NCAA Tournament run that saw them down 14 against FAU, nine against Alabama and eight against Creighton.
In a season that saw the Aztecs just one win away from their first title in school history, the Aztecs lived, died and battled together on their way to Houston, finding ways to win in the face of frequently insurmountable odds.
“I think the season was a great comeback story,” senior guard Matt Bradley said following the title game loss. “I’m so lucky to be part of the team where I was able to set the precedent for what this team has to come when it comes to postseason play, and moving forward, we’ve got a taste of it.”
When watching the Aztecs, it’s almost impossible to look past the incredible rapport between each and every one of the players and coaches.
One notices veterans of the team such as sixth-year guard Adam Seiko and fifth-year forwards Nathan Mensah and Keshad Johnson, players who have dedicated their entire college careers to this team and who have fought for the opportunity to play at the highest stage.
“We’re winners every day,” Seiko said. “We practice like winners every day. I couldn’t thank God [more] for this moment being in the national championship. It doesn’t feel like we’re in the national championship, but we’re just winning games. We just love winning. Shout out to the coaches and fans and players who play their hearts out every game and every single day. I love these guys.”
Then, there’s transfers Matt Bradley and Darrion Trammell, players that came to San Diego because they wanted to win, dedicating themselves to that cause and doing whatever it takes to achieve that goal.
“When I entered the portal and came here, during that time with COVID and stuff, I was really ready to just stop playing,” Bradley tearfully said. “I told myself — I was just like, ‘you know what, man? It’s been tough. Just go home and get a job and call it a day, you’ll be alright.’ But Coach Dutch, he’s one of the most genuine guys I’ve ever met, the way he took me in and the brotherhood and real leadership that we could follow, changed the trajectory of my life for sure. It’s more than just basketball.”
For this entire team, it’s more than just basketball. For coach Brian Dutcher, basketball is always second to the main emphasis.
“They’re good people,” Dutcher said. “They’re good students, and they’re really good players. We can feel good about the things we did, and we are. We feel good about the things we did. Disappointed in the loss, but there was a brotherhood in that locker room that will never be divided by a margin of victory or not winning at all. That brotherhood will last a lifetime.”
Senior forward Aguek Arop, a player than has proven time and time again that he will go to war for his teammates, spoke on the impact this team had on him.
“There’s a lot of days where I know several of us come in and we don’t want to be there, but I think it takes like one guy to be smiling, and the next thing you know, I’m back in it,” Arop said. “Something that small. It’s hard to put it in words, but that example is how deep this brotherhood runs. And I think we’ve each gone through our own trials and tribulations.”
Through every trial and tribulation, they have always picked each other up, always kept going, always kept the championship in sight, and a run toward the title ended just a little short.