Lamont Butler heroically advances the Aztecs to a National Championship
This is what March Madness is all about.
With 17 seconds left, the FAU Owls are up one point with the ball. Who is going to make the winning play to advance to the NCAA championship?
The answer: Lamont Butler, a now legendary Aztec forever.
Johnell Davis missed a runner. Instead of burning a timeout, Butler raced down the floor to look for an opening. He found a wall of Owls, so he pulled up with one second left. As he did against New Mexico on February 25 to clinch a Mountain West Regular Season Championship and splash.
The arena erupted with mayhem. The Aztecs win 72-71 and advanced to the NCAA title game.
“Once I looked it up, there was two seconds left; I got to a shot that I was comfortable with, a one dribble pull up,” Butler said. “I’m just so happy to be in this position; we got a chance to win a national championship.”
“We were lucky; I just thought at that time, let’s just go downhill,” Coach Brian Dutcher said. “I had three bigs in the game, Keshad, AG, and Nate; I just told them, you three guys run to the rim, Lamont, you go to the basket, and we’ll see what happens. Lamont made the shot.”
Since last Sunday’s win against Creighton, the hype around San Diego State has been enormous. After winning the South region, they advanced to their first Final Four ever to play FAU, playing in a 72,220-seat arena with every national outlet following them like rock stars.
For the Aztecs, the game started with the ‘Matt Bradley Show.’ Bradley looked confident in his jump shots and must have been happy to be away from the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville.
Bradley scored only eight combined points against Creighton and Alabama. Against the Blue Jays, he sat on the bench at the end of the game. Through almost five minutes, Bradley was already up to 11 against FAU. He connected on his first three triples. After the Owls started the game up 5-0, Bradley single-handedly aided an Aztec 14-0 run.
Then FAU awoke.
Nick Boyd found openings beyond the arc, and the Aztecs were slow to close out. He converted three shots from beyond the arc, more than Creighton made in the entire Elite Eight game. After two TV timeouts, the Aztec lead was 16-15.
The media conversation all week centered on SDSU’s elite defense. They are forcing teams to shoot 17% from beyond the arc in the tournament. They have forced every team to score at least 15 points less than their season average.
In the first half, FAU made buckets. They opened the game 6-for-12 from beyond the arc and shot 13-23 overall in the opening 17 minutes. They grew their lead to 36-28 before Coach Dutcher called a timeout to stop their momentum.
The Owls showed no fear. To begin the game, Bryan Greenlee fought for a jump ball and then got in Keshad Johnson’s face to send a message. The Owls whipped the ball around the perimeter, and the SDSU defenders were a step slow. Every player that subbed into the first half scored. Everyone was a threat which made them difficult to defend. They opened the game by scaring the Aztecs on the perimeter then they attacked inside.
The Aztecs looked overwhelmed.
FAU scored 40 first-half points. It was the most points allowed by the Aztecs since Wyoming on January 7.
Johnson ended the half with a corner three to leave the Aztecs trailing only seven going into halftime. It was Johnson’s only points of the contest, but in the scheme of the game, it was an essential play.
Through the first second-half TV timeout, the Owls led by nine. Every time the Aztecs made shots, FAU responded.
After going scoreless in the first half, Darrion Trammell opened the half with a long ball and a floater.
Frustration from the Aztec side continued to brew. Micah Parrish was called for a reach-in foul and afterward elbowed an Owl in the chest. He was given a flagrant one; it was light but unnecessary contact. FAU quickly pushed its lead to 11 with 15 minutes to play.
In the next play, Mensah fouled Alijah Martin on a three-pointer. He made all his free throws. The Owls’ lead was up to 14.
To aid the SDSU demise, the Owls were in the bonus with 13:53 remaining in the half. This hurt SDSU, a team who desperately reaches for steals when trailing.
But with the season seemingly about to end, what did the Aztecs do, as they have done the entire season? Fight through adversity.
“We were just motivated; we’ve been in that position so many times throughout the year,” Bradley said. “We’ve always been knocked down, but the biggest thing we always do is get back up and keep fighting,”
Parrish rolled in a three. Bradley was fouled on a long ball and converted all his attempts. Parrish smoothly hit another. Suddenly, the Aztecs trailed only seven with 11:11 on the clock. It is a superstition for people that when the clock strikes 11:11, you are supposed to make a wish. The Aztec faithful, who traveled in herds to the arena, chanted, ‘We Will Be Victorious,” and made their wish to fuel the Aztecs.
“I felt like that (the elbow) was something our team needed at the moment. I felt like we needed some type of energy; we weren’t playing hard enough to the best of our ability,” Parrish said. “The refs told me it could have went either way; it is what it is; they called it on us; I’m not going to fight about it. That caused us to do what we needed to do at the end to come back and play harder.”
The momentum continued. Bradley converted a contested three. Jaedon LeDee spun inside for a layup. Bradley aggressively got to the free-throw line and made both. Suddenly, Owls the led by only two.
But Alijah Martin stopped the run with a ferocious slam on a backdoor cut that Johnson overplayed. Two possessions later, he hit a fadeaway three. He scored 26 points for the game.
With 7:15 on the clock, it was anyone’s game. FAU was up 65-60. The next four minutes became a war at the free throw line. LeDee twice, Bradley, and Aguek Arop went to the free throw line and went 3-for-8. Every miss on the second attempt in that stretch was collected by SDSU for an offensive rebound. They tied the game at 65 before Giancarlo Rosado hit another fadeaway jumper to regain the lead.
“We knew in order to win this game, we had to do all the little things, loose balls, get offensive rebounds, that’s the type of team we’re made of,” Bradley said.
The Owls led 67-65. 3:14 remaining.
The misses at the line continued. Parrish missed two. Bradley went 1-for-2. The Aztecs were leaving points on the table and were running out of time.
With 57.8 seconds remaining. FAU had the ball and led 69-68. The tension in the arena could be cut with a knife.
Martin struck again, this time with a reverse layup over the outstretched SDSU defender. The Owls led by three—San Diego State timeout.
The following play design went to LeDee, who hit maybe the biggest jump shot of his career. The shot gave the Aztecs a two-for-one. They did not have to foul the Owls and extend the game.
It set the game for Butler’s heroics.
“I just feel great, and I think we need another one,” LeDee said.
They now advance to play in the NCAA championship against the winner of Miami vs. Connecticut.
Class of 2022 at San Diego State University. Communication major and pursuing a sports journalism profession. Season ticket holder of the SDSU MBB team since 2011. Fondest memory of Viejas Arena is Aztec legend, Dwayne Polee sparking a 19-1 run over New Mexico to win the MW Conference in 2014.