A Darrion Trammell free throw sends the Aztecs to the Final Four

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Last year, the San Diego State men’s basketball team was knocked out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament by the Creighton Blue Jays. With 3:48 remaining in the second half, the Aztecs were up by nine but eventually blew the lead. The Blue Jays scored nine straight to force overtime and eventually won 72-69 to send SDSU home.

“It is the agony and ecstasy of March,” head coach Brian Dutcher said after that game. “I thought we competed at a high level [and] put ourselves in a position to win. Just a really good college basketball game. Unfortunately, we ended up on the losing end of it.”

The Aztecs, who two days ago upset the No. 1 team in the nation, Alabama, to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history, got the rematch they wanted in Creighton this afternoon.

The game came down to Darrion Trammell’s first free-throw attempts of the game with 1.2 seconds remaining. He went one-for-two from the line, giving the Aztecs a 57-56 lead and the eventual win. SDSU got the revenge they were looking for and advanced to the Final Four.

Creighton’s Ryan Kalkbrenner, who leads the team in points, scoring average, and field goal percentage, had six of the Blue Jays’ first eight points up until the 14:48 mark.

Three fouls by the Aztecs from 14:05 to 13:05 slowed down SDSU and gave Creighton the ability to pull away offensively.

After Kalkbrenner’s 10th point of the game gave the Blue Jays an eight-point lead at the 6:36 mark, the Red and Black turned up the offense.

The Aztecs went on a 10-2 run to tie the game at 28-28 with three tough baskets by Jaedon Ledee for six points, one Lamont Butler lay-up, and one Darrion Trammell floater.

Creighton’s Baylor Scheierman and Arthur Kaluma combined for the last five points of the first half to give the Blue Jays a 33-28 lead.

Creighton shot 53.8% from the field on SDSU, the fourth most efficient defense in the nation, but struggled behind the arc (28.6%).

Scheierman and Ryan Nembhard both made tough baskets for the Blue Jays and combined for 14 points in the first half.

Butler, who was named to the all-South regional team, was the most efficient shooter for the Aztecs in the first 20 minutes, scoring nine points and going four-for-five from the field.

The Red and Black shot 43.3% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc in the first half. Creighton was solid defensively and forced the Red and Black to take bad shots, with some shots failing to touch the rim.

The Aztecs came out of the locker room and hit the court with an offensive attack, going on a 6-0 run to take a 34-33 lead. It was their first lead since 5-4.

On Creighton’s next offensive possession, Kaluma made a tough lay-up to give the Blue Jays the lead back.

Starting from the Kaluma lay-up, Creighton went on an 8-0 run, getting help from the Aztecs being undisciplined, fouling, and missing ten straight field goals.

At the 12:52 mark, a Butler three ended the Aztecs’ inefficient shooting streak and fueled the offense to go on a 7-2 run to cut the Creighton lead to two.

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SDSU played better defensively and forced the Blue Jays into a little over a four-minute scoring drought. A Kaluma jumper at the 8:22 mark ended the drought.

Then, Keshad Johnson and Trammell combined for five points to give the Aztecs a 46-45 lead at the 6:44 mark.

Both teams started to be consistent offensively and traded points until the 3:58 mark when Aguek Arop made two tough baskets in the paint to give the Aztecs their largest lead of the afternoon, 54-50.

It did not take long for that lead to subside, as Kalkbrenner made two shots in the paint to tie the game at 54-54.

With 32 seconds remaining and the Aztecs up 56-54 after a Nathan Mensah jumper, Adam Seiko tried to make an inbound pass to Micah Parrish but turned it over to Scheierman and he tied it up with a lay-up.

SDSU had the ball with 6.7 seconds remaining. Seiko made an inbound pass to Arop, who gave it to Trammell, and he dribbled the ball to the free-throw line, put up a floater, and was fouled by Nembhard.

Nerves set in for Trammell at the free-throw line. He missed the first free throw but made the second to give the Aztecs a 57-56 lead.

“It is all about believing in yourself,” Trammell said emotionally after the game in an interview with CBS sideline reporter Evan Washburn, talking about the free throws. “I’m just grateful for everyone believing in me.”

Scheierman made a football pass down the court; it was tipped off some players and out of bounds. The referees reviewed the play to determine if the ball went out of bounds with time remaining on the clock. After the review, they determined that there was no time left, and the Aztecs celebrated. The Red and Black continued their historic run in the NCAA tournament and advanced to the Final Four, defeating Creighton 57-56.

In a statement, the NCAA explained the ruling.

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“The officials reviewed the timing of the final play of the San Diego State-Creighton game and determined the clock did not start when it was initially touched on the inbounds pass. The crew used the embedded clock within the DVSport replay system, and it was ruled the clock hit zero before the ball touched out of bounds, thus ending the game.”

“We are grateful to be advancing. I told the team in the locker room they had the music going, I walked in, and I told them to turn it down. I said either sing, dance, or get out of the way as we are going to the Final Four,” Dutcher said postgame.  “There were people that doubted we could do it, but we never doubted for a minute.

The Aztecs won the second half with very efficient defense, holding Creighton to 40% shooting from the field and 11.8% from beyond the arc overall. SDSU only shot 37.9% from the field and 23.1% from beyond the arc.

All of the points for Creighton came from the starters, with Kalkbrenner leading the team with 17 points. Kaluma and Scheierman combined for 24 points. Nembhard and Trey Alexander chipped in 15 points between them.

Butler was clutch all game, finished with 18 points, and only missed three field goal attempts. Trammell, who had 21 points against Alabama, finished with 12 points on five-for-14 shooting. He was named the Co-Player of the South Regional with Kalkbrenner. 

“I was getting to my spots in the mid-range, knocking down shots I hit all year, ” Butler said postgame. “I had some open looks from three that I took, and I was fortunate they went in.”

SDSU plays the Florida Atlantic University Owls in NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, on Saturday in the Final Four.

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