Tarke’s Takes: SDSU vs. New Mexico

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: AP Photo

San Diego State went into “The Pit’ for the first time since 2020 and won their ninth regular-season Mountain West title on a Lamont Butler buzzer-beater three. 

The game was physical, saw contributions from the entire Aztec team, and had the players elated in the locker room to celebrate the hard-fought victory.

Hard work is undefeated.

After the Colorado State game, Trammell was asked in the press conference about his thoughts on facing the Lobos. He immediately grinned, he gave a professional answer to avoid giving them bulletin board material, but it was clear the game meant a little extra.

New Mexico came into Viejas Arena and gave the Aztecs their only home loss of the season. In that game, the Lobo guards, Jaelen House and Mashburn, combined for 51 points. House scored 29 and was letting the entire arena know about it. He showboated in front of the SDSU bench, danced up the court for the whole arena, and even gave a ‘too small’ gesture towards Trammell after scoring over him.

Trammell, with his chip on his shoulder, made this game personal.

Through the first 20 minutes, Trammell went 1-for-5 from the floor and 2-for-4 from the free throw line. The offense looked out of sorts and needed a boost.

In the second half, Trammell decided he would be the recharge.

A minute into the half, he found an open three on the wing, miss. Mensah got the offensive rebound, passed back to Trammell from the same spot, brick.

The following possession, he laced up another off.

Trammell’s shooting stats: 1-for-8.

“Hard work is undefeated,” Trammell said postgame against Colorado State when asked how to work through shooting woes. “It’s all going to click when it’s supposed to click. You can’t really get too caught up in what shots are falling, in what shots aren’t falling. You just have to get to your spots and trust your work.” 

At the 16:08 mark, it clicked. He trusted his tireless work when no one was watching and finally knocked down a triple from the wing.

On the following possession, he followed it up with a fadeaway mid-range jumper.

For the next 10 minutes, SDSU hung around, keeping the deficit close and waiting for their turn to pounce.

On an out-of-bounds play, Dutcher drew up an opening for Trammell on the corner, he splashed a three to make the game a one-possession game for the first time since the first half.

Then he found another opening from beyond the arc, bang.

Three possessions later, he found his spot again on the corner on the same out-of-bounds play and again connected.

This made it a 67-64 Aztec lead with 2:30 left in the game. There was no emotion, no showboating; he looked House right in the eyes and locked into his defensive stance.

Fourteen second-half points on 4-for-8 shooting from three.

Lamont Butler may be remembered the most from this game for his heroic shot. But Trammell’s second-half surge propelled the Aztecs to victory. His confidence is also very high at the right time in the season.

Big Time Buckets

All the glory goes to Lamont Butler for his heroic buzzer-beater  to defeat the Lobos. But there were a few momentum buckets that led to the SDSU victory.

The first big-time bucket (BTB) was with 16:08 left in the half when New Mexico extended the lead to the biggest of the night at 13. Darrion Trammell silenced the Lobo faithful by finally hitting a three-pointer after missing his first three attempts of the second half. This stopped New Mexico’s momentum and got Trammell’s shooting rhythm going for the rest of the half. 

Credit: UNM

The second BTB of the night was at the seven-minute mark. Down by nine with 11:24 left, the Aztecs clawed their way back into the contest. They went on a 7-0 run capped by another Trammell three to get within two. On the next possession, the Lobos responded like they did all night. UNM Morris Udeze cleared the paint out and made a layup, with Aguek Arop fouling him. This brought life back into ‘The Pit’. 

On the subsequent trip down the floor following Udeze’s layup, the Lobos left Keshad Johnson wide open on the three-point line. They dared the 23.5% three-point shooter to lace it up in one of the biggest games of the season.

Swish. He held his follow through for good measure.

How many times in basketball has a run by one team immediately followed one by its opposition? Keshad Johnson’s BTB shut the door on that possibility. 

Later in the half, Micah Parrish hit a clutch BTB of his own. With 52 seconds left, the Aztecs led by only one needing a field goal to prevent the Lobos from getting the chance to take the lead.

Butler ran the offense from the top of the key and found an open Parrish on the wing. Parrish was lined up in the corner as Nathan Mensah set a screen for Butler at the top of the key. As Butler dribbled to his right, Parrish moved to the wing to create a better passing lane. Jalen House was guarding Parrish and had to stay near the key to help on the pick and roll. The movement created just enough room for SDSU’s guard to shoot over the shorter House on the close out. Swish. 

The shot made the game 70-66 with 24 seconds left. If SDSU generated a stop on defense on the following possession, it was likely the game-winner. But in that case, Lamont Butler would not have gotten the opportunity to make history.

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Mountain West Regular Season Champions

In November, this was the goal, to hang a banner.

The Aztecs have built an impressive 23-5 record and find themselves with two games remaining and the Mountain West and NCAA tournaments looming ahead.

Over the course of four months, time flies. But down one, with six seconds left, in one of the most hostile environments in college basketball, time slows down.

“It was a little slow motion, I got the ball, came down the court, and I looked up, and it was two seconds left,” Butler said. “I thought, oh man, I just let it fly, and I felt like the ball just went slow into the hoop, and then I’m happy it went in.”

The shot silenced 15,411 fans who have been looking forward to this matchup all season. Butler was stormed by his teammates, who were elated over the victory.

Rewind four months, Butler was scrutinized for choking under pressure.

Against Arkansas in the Maui Invitational, up four with little time to play, Butler made a questionable foul on the Razorbacks to give them free points at the charity stripe. On the following offensive possession, he turned the ball over. Arkansas sent the game to overtime and ended up winning. Fingers were pointed at Butler for the two plays down the stretch.

Against the Lobos with an opportunity to hang another banner, Coach Brian Dutcher trusted Butler with the game on the line.

On the possession before, Butler created a three for Parrish. On the final possession, he was given an opportunity to create his own offense. Dutcher drew up a play for him to attack on the sideline, but he ended up finding space at the top of the key.

Credit: New Mexico Athletics

He appeared to take up too much time, but he cherished the six seconds and found his opening. Lobo guard Jamal Mashburn looked unprepared for Butler to pull up.

Hand down, man down. 

Aztecs win their ninth regular-season Mountain West title. 

Quick Takes:

     Little plays. At 64-64 with 2:37 remaining in the game, Udeze had positioning on Johnson. Johnson knew the Lobo was too big for him, so he poked the ball loose. The steal led to an SDSU fastbreak which led to a foul, then a Trammell three on the ensuing out of bounds play.

One minute later, Nathan Mensah took a charge on 6’2 Lobo guard KJ Jenkins. The MW Defensive Player of the year could have attempted to block it, but instead of potentially drawing a foul, he took his positioning and risked his body.

          Dominating the boards. From the tip-off, it was clear that SDSU was going to crash the glass. They finished the game with 16 more shot attempts. This was mainly due to denying offensive rebounds and grabbing their own. They secured 14 offensive rebounds and won the battle 41-30.

          Sharing the wealth on offense. “If you’re frustrated, don’t be,” Dutcher said after the game. “You can’t play basketball frustrated. Put the first half behind you and believe you’re going to have a great second half.”

It was clear in the first half that the Aztecs were frustrated on offense. The Lobos were ferocious in their pressure, but SDSU was not moving offensively. In the first half, they dished out three assists to their 12 field goals. In the second half, they played free-flowing basketball. They moved on offense and played as a team. They passed 14 assists on their 19 made field goals.

Blaming the bench.  House was the primary defender on many of the big shots SDSU hit down the stretch. After each attempt, he would look at his bench and wave his arms in frustration. Judging by House’s reaction, it was the coaches and not the star guard who were at fault for the faulty defense. 

          Late game blunders. The late-game execution from this year’s team will give any fan gray hairs. SDSU continues to struggle with full-court pressure. The Lobo’s started pressing with 55 seconds left, and the Aztecs looked lucky to get through it without making a mistake on their first possession against it.

With the shot clock off and the lead at two possessions, the Aztecs needed a stop to win the game. Mensah fouled Mashburn behind the three-point line to bring the game to one after three made free throws. On the following inbound, Trammell beat the press and saw an open Adam Seiko but threw an errant pass which led to the Lobos taking the lead with six seconds left.

These miscues have been a common theme for SDSU at the end of games, with every game in March seemingly going to the wire; they must clean it up.

          Part III? This was a big game for seeding in the Mountain West. With San Jose State beating Boise State before the SDSU-UNM game, the Spartans move into fifth place in the conference, pushing the Lobos into sixth. If SJSU wins out, they claim the fifth seed. This position faces the fourth seed in the conference for the first game in the MW tournament. If SDSU claims first place and wins their first matchup against the eighth seed in the conference, they play the winner of the 4/5 matchup in the Semifinals. If the Spartans drop a game and the Lobos win out, there is a chance that the Aztecs could face the Lobos for a third time this season in the Thomas & Mack Center. SJSU and UNM both face teams well below them in the standings in their final two contests. 

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