The fifth-seeded Aztecs (29-6) hounded the Paladins (28-8), a 13 seed, on defense in Orlando at the Amway Center, and fully capitalized on the offensive end to book their ticket to the next round in Louisville.
No. 18 SDSU last made it to the Sweet 16 in 2014. But a huge obstacle lies ahead in the South Region – the tournament’s top seed, Alabama, now San Diego State’s next opponent.
The Crimson Tide (30-5) defeated 8th-seeded Maryland (22-12) 73-50 – the same margin of victory as the Aztecs’ game – late Saturday in Birmingham, Ala.
But San Diego State head coach Brian Dutcher – it will be his first trip to the Sweet 16 while at the helm – had a chance to pause and savor his team’s accomplishment after the win.
“Keep playing up to our standards, play as hard as we can, as long as we can,” Dutcher told his team in the locker room, as caught by CBS cameras. “Let’s ride this through.”
The teams played close for the first 10 minutes – each held early four-point leads – until San Diego State launched an 18-1 run that paved the way for the Aztecs to take a 39-25 lead into the break.
Aguek Arop tied the game at 17 with a layup off an assist by Lamont Butler, and moments later, after a traveling call against Furman’s Jalen Slawson, Micah Parrish drove to the basket for his first score of the game, a layup, to put SDSU up by two.
Parrish stayed hot over the remaining eight minutes of the half, including a layup following a steal by Darrion Trammell that gave his team a 13-point lead. He added 10 more points to pace the team with 14 before the break.
“It was really my teammates finding me in transition,” he said later. “We just try to find an open guy.”
A key for Furman head coach Bob Richey was a foul on Matt Bradley in the act of shooting a three-pointer while the Paladins were up 16-12. He made all three free throws, and Furman soon relinquished the lead, never to get it back.
“… We had some – not just turnovers, but we also had what we call shot turnovers, which are bad shots that basically are just like a turnover,” Richey said. “I thought they were able to play in transition and they were able to get the game up and down a little bit instead of having to score in the half court.”
The Aztec defense, meanwhile, was a nightmare for the Paladins, holding them to no field goals for almost 11 minutes until Mike Bothwell broke through with a jumper with just 23 seconds left in the half. Still, Bradley answered, hitting his own jumper with time ticking down, as the Aztecs maintained their largest lead of the day, at 14 points.
“I thought our defense set everything up for us,” Dutcher said.
The lead only grew once play resumed.
Parrish passed the baton to Trammell, who hit a three after an offensive rebound by Nathan Mensah to open up the scoring in the second half. With an Adam Seiko layup approaching the 14-minute mark, the advantage reached 21, and with six minutes to play Butler’s bucket put the Aztecs up by 25.
Four players scored in double digits, led by Parrish with 16, and followed by Trammell with 13, all of them in the final half. Butler added 12 points, six rebounds and six assists. Mensah had nine rebounds and two blocked shots.
The Aztecs limited Furman, a high-scoring team out of South Carolina that finished with the best overall record in the Southern Conference, to its lowest output of the season, on 32% shooting.
SDSU was particularly dominant inside, with 41 rebounds to the Paladins’ 24, and 18 second-chance points, 13 more than Furman.
Trammell said the plan was to disrupt and pressure the Paladin shooters.
“We were switching out and our bigs did a great job guarding the guards, switching out aggressively, and I think our defensive aggressiveness was really high tonight,” he explained.
“They kept us from driving, kept the ball out of the paint, kept a really strong floor and played really hard,” said Furman forward Jalen Slawson, who fouled out.
Sweet 16 games will be played Thursday and Friday with tipoff and broadcast channels to be determined.
Updated 2:10 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. March 18, 2023