SDSU NCAA Tournament
Lamont Butler exults as he jumps into Aguek Arop’s arms after his buzzer beater fell for the Aztec win. Photo credit: Screen shot, @MarchMadnessMBB via Twitter

Fore more please see Whether in Houston, Viejas or Petco, SDSU Fans Live it Up Over Historic Win

San Diego State scored yet another first for the basketball program Saturday, as Lamont Butler’s buzzer beater sent them to the championship game at the NCAA Tournament.

The Aztecs defeated Florida Atlantic 72-71 Saturday in Houston on Butler’s jumper with less than two seconds remaining, completing a dramatic comeback from a 14-point deficit.

The Aztecs (32-6) and the Owls (35-4) both were making their first Final Four appearances, but only SDSU will move on to Monday’s title game, against UConn (30-8), the 72-59 winner of Saturday’s late contest against Miami (29-8).

Jaedon LeDee, with 36 seconds left, hit a jumper to make it a one-point game for San Diego State trailing 71-70.

After a timeout by FAU with 17 seconds left, Johnell Davis, challenged by Aguek Arop, missed the chance to put his team up by three with nine seconds to go. After a rebound by Nathan Mensah, head coach Brian Dutcher had a timeout, but declined to take it, putting the team’s fate in Butler’s hands.

“The plan was just to get downhill,” Butler told CBS. Dutcher confirmed it, adding, “and he made the play.”

But the Aztecs had to come a long way to complete the fifth largest comeback in Final Four history – and the only one in which the buzzer-beating shot erased a lead by the other side.

For the first time during the tournament a team broke out against SDSU in the first half, as FAU put 40 on the board while shooting 54%. The Owls would go 14-7 the rest of the way for a 40-33 lead at the break.

The advantage ballooned to 14 as FAU’s Alijah Martin was a flawless 9-for-9 from the free- throw line early in the second half. But after a three-pointer by Micah Parrish, Davis fouled Matt Bradley as he attempted a three. The Aztecs’ leading scorer, though he had been cold the last three games, landed the free throws.

Parrish hit from distance again, and following a Bradley three – he had four on the night and three in the first five minutes of the game – and two jumpers by LeDee, the Aztecs had suddenly slashed FAU’s 56-42 lead to 62-60 with eight minutes left.

“That was nothing to us,” Bradley said of falling behind. “We knew we had time on our side. We just got together and fought back.”

Though Martin promptly hit a three, SDSU dominated the boards – they logged nine offensive rebounds in four minutes – and drew fouls, giving them several chances at the free-throw line.

Yet they left the door open for FAU, making just four of the 12 shots. But after Arop missed one, Bradley grabbed the rebound and fed Arop for a jumper to tie the game at 65 with just over four minutes to play.

FAU again answered, this time with a Giancarlo Rosado jumper, but no one scored again until Bradley made one of two free throws with 2:05 on the clock, to bring SDSU within one, 67-66.

A Bradley foul sent Davis to the line and he hit both free throws, but LeDee’s jumper made it 69-68 FAU with a minute to play.

Martin added a layup for a three-point lead, then LeDee, playing in his hometown, landed another jumper to set up the rush to the finish.

Both teams called timeouts and after the Davis shot went off target, Mensah got the ball to Butler, who found himself challenged by FAU’s Nick Boyd. He dribbled out of it before pulling up to send the game winner soaring over Boyd.

“They did a good job cutting me off,” the junior said. “Once I looked up, it was two seconds left, I knew I had to make a shot.”

It was San Diego State’s only lead of the half, but it came when it mattered most.

“I figured we’d get the ball somewhere around seven seconds if we were lucky. I thought at that time let’s just go downhill,” Dutcher said, adding that he told Butler “you go to the basket and let’s see what happens.”

Coach Dusty May told CBS the Aztecs were a “force on the glass, (and) very destructive late” as they ended FAU’s Cinderella run. With the ninth-seeded Owls’ loss, a team seeded ninth or below again failed to get past the Final Four and into the title game.

Bradley finished the game with 21 and LeDee with 12, while Butler and Arop each had nine. They also ground down FAU, which shot only 34% to finish the game after their hot hands in the opening half.

Martin led all scorers with 26.

Three of the teams in this year’s Final Four, SDSU, FAU and Miami, made it this far in the tournament for the first time. Only UConn has an elite pedigree, having won four championships, the last in 2014.

The fifth-seeded Aztecs won the South Region and the Owls won the East Region. In the most recent national rankings, San Diego State came in at No. 18 on the Top 25, while FAU held the final spot.