Butler the hero as Aztecs stun Lobos, 73-71

Credit: AP Photo

Credit: Getty Images

San Diego State traveled to New Mexico expecting to need a win to remain alone in first place of the Mountain West. However, San Jose State upset Boise State in overtime, meaning the Aztecs knew a win would secure them a share of the Mountain West title. 

They trailed by 13. They only hit two free throws all day. They turned the ball over at a crucial moment late in the game. It didn’t matter. Lamont Butler nailed the game-winner, and the Aztecs clinched a share of the Mountain West title.

New Mexico came into the game knowing that their hopes of an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament rested squarely on getting a win against the Aztecs. From the tip,  San Diego State used their stout defense to remind the Lobos exactly how hard that would be. Across the first five minutes, the Aztecs out-rebounded the Lobos 6-2, blocked two shots, and forced a pair of turnovers. 

However, the Aztecs were also uncharacteristically loose with the basketball, as the Lobos were able to force several turnovers to send ‘The Pit’ into a frenzy. With just under 11 minutes to play, Javonte Johnson nailed a three to put the Lobos ahead for the first time in the game. New Mexico made three of their first five threes, as the Aztecs defense consistently surrendered open looks from beyond the arc. 

The Lobos went on a 9-0 run to put themselves ahead by six, as the Aztecs began to get sloppy on the offensive side of the court as well. KJ Jenkins was a star for New Mexico, putting up 11 points in the first half, including a three to send the Lobos fans wild. The Lobos were on a 16-2 run, dominating all aspects of the game. They were hitting three-pointers, playing stellar defense, and drawing plenty of fouls. 

In the first half, the Lobos looked like the team that started 14-0. The Aztecs looked nothing like the one that had won nine of their last ten. 

The Lobos’ success from beyond the arc was matched by San Diego State’s ineptitude. They went just 1-for-7 in the first half before missing four more to start the second. Then, four minutes into the half, Darrion Trammell finally hit an open three, bringing the Aztecs’ gap down to ten. He added two more on a fadeaway before Jaedon LeeDee slammed down a dunk in transition to go on a quick 7-0 run. San Diego State hit six straight shots, but they could not get a stop, as the Lobos seemed to have a response to every haymaker the Aztecs threw. After the game, Brian Dutcher said, “We needed to get three straight stops.”. As the second half ran onwards, it seemed increasingly unlikely they’d do it.

The two teams combined for eleven consecutive makes, with New Mexico keeping the Aztecs at arm’s length. With 12 minutes left in the game, LeeDee picked up his fourth foul, forcing Nathan Mensah back into the game. Mensah had been sitting on the bench because he had three fouls of his own. 

San Diego State had a seven-minute stretch where they made eight of their nine shots. In the process, they cut the Lobos’ lead down by just four points as New Mexico kept pace. Then, out of nowhere, New Mexico’s offense came to a screeching halt. They missed six consecutive shots as part of a four-minute scoreless stretch. 

Credit: New Mexico Athletics

With six minutes to play, Aguek Arop laid the ball in, putting San Diego State up one. After trailing by as much as 13 in the second half, the Aztecs had come all the way back.

Darrion Trammell hit his third three of the second half to give the Aztecs a two-point lead. With the Aztecs up two and three minutes remaining, LeeDee picked up his fifth foul, ending his night early. Udeze knocked down the resulting free throws, leveling the game at 64. 

Trammell, who missed three three-pointers in the first three minutes of the second half, hit his fourth in a row to put San Diego State up three. “He [Trammell] stepped up big time.”, said Lamont Butler after his heroic shot. Both teams traded misses until Mashburn drew a foul, hitting both from the stripe to cut the Aztecs’ lead to one. Coming out of a timeout, the Aztecs took all 30 seconds off the clock before Micah Parrish rattled in a three to make it a two-possession game with 25 seconds to play. 

Mashburn hit three free throws to cut the gap to one. Trammell, who had been fantastic for the entire second half, attempted to make an extra pass to avoid being fouled and turned the ball over. Jaelen House picked up the ball and took it all the way to the rim. He laid it in to give the Lobos the lead with six seconds to play. 

Lamont Butler took the inbound pass, ran up the floor, pulled up at the three-point line, and took the shot. He nailed it. Swish. “That’s a big-time shot.”, said Dutcher post-game, admitting that it was not the play that he drew up.

In a matter of moments, the Aztecs clinched a share of the Mountain West, and the Lobos knew their NCAA tournament hopes rested on winning the Mountain West tournament. 

San Diego State will get a chance to get the Mountain West title all to themselves if they can beat either Boise State or Wyoming to close the year. 

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