San Diego St. rallies, defeats FAU on buzzer-beater, 72-71
Field Level Media
Apr 1, 2023
HOUSTON -- The record will reflect Lamont Butler's pull-up jumper that resulted in a victory at the buzzer, but true to its reputation, San Diego State secured a spot in the national championship game by virtue of stifling defense.
Butler beat the buzzer with a shot that lifted the fifth-seeded Aztecs to a 72-71 victory over Florida Atlantic in the first national semifinal at the Final Four in Houston on Saturday. But it was what San Diego State mustered defensively in the second half that set the stage for Butler's heroics.
After allowing the ninth-seeded Owls to shoot 53.6 percent in the first half, including 6 of 14 on 3-pointers, the Aztecs (32-6) limited FAU to 8-for-24 shooting after the break.
FAU led 56-42 with 13:53 left but made only four field goals over the final 8:52, three by Alijah Martin, whose game-high 26 points featured 7-for-13 shooting overall and 9 of 10 at the free-throw line.
"I didn't feel as they were going to try to slow the game down and grind it out," Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher said of FAU. "I knew they would continue to play aggressive basketball.
"And thank goodness for us they missed a few shots and we got a few stops and got back in the game."
Before Butler provided the Aztecs their first lead of the second half, Aguek Arop contested a layup attempt from Owls guard Johnell Davis. Nathan Mensah secured the rebound for the Aztecs and Butler did the rest, calmly working the clock before hitting his game-winner.
"Coach decided to call a timeout at the end," Butler said. "It was about seven seconds after we got the ball, and he told me to go downhill, get something at the rim.
"They did a good job cutting me off. Once I looked up, it was two seconds left, I knew I had to make a shot. I got to a shot I'm comfortable with. Went to a pull-up; glad it went in."
Martin gave FAU a 71-68 lead with his layup with 45 seconds left.
But Jaedon LeDee countered with a jumper for the Aztecs on the ensuing possession. LeDee had 12 points and six rebounds for the Aztecs, who were led by Matt Bradley and his 21 points. Butler finished with nine points.
Martin sank five free throws during an extended FAU possession, lifting the Owls (35-4) to their largest lead at 54-40. The Aztecs answered with a timely 16-4 run that featured threes from Micah Parrish and Bradley plus five Bradley free throws as San Diego State closed to within two.
Martin appeared to stave off the comeback with a dunk off a backdoor cut and a trey with 7:44 left for a 65-60 lead. But the Aztecs finally locked in on defense, holding FAU scoreless over three-plus minutes. They produced a dominant stretch of offensive rebounding that culminated in a second-chance basket from Arop that knotted the score at 65-65 with 4:24 left to play.
"They went on a run," Martin said. "Getting extra possessions. And that was really the turning point of the game."
Bradley started 4-for-4 from the floor with a trio of 3-pointers, recording 11 points during a 14-0 run that yielded a 14-5 lead for the Aztecs. But FAU weathered that blow and discovered its offensive rhythm, starting with two Nick Boyd (12 points) 3-pointers that fueled a 10-2 spurt.
San Diego State countered with four consecutive field goals and pulled even at 26-26 with 6:58 remaining in the first half, but the Aztecs struggled to contain the Owls' diverse scoring attack.
Giancarlo Rosado followed a Martin step-back 3-pointer with three successive baskets in the paint, the third capping a 12-2 run that resulted in the Owls' first double-digit lead at 38-28 with 2:28 left.
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