A Lamont Butler Buzzer-Beater Gave San Diego State A Win Over Florida Atlantic In The Final Four

Saturday’s Final Four matchup between the San Diego State Aztecs and the Florida Atlantic Owls was notable before it even began. Both programs operate outside of the traditional power-conference structure and, while both San Diego State and Florida Atlantic are worthy national semifinalists by the metrics, it was an “off the radar” matchup by conventional standards. Still, the Aztecs and Owls put together a memorable 40-minute battle in Houston, and San Diego State’s Lamont Butler became a folk hero with a game-winner at the buzzer to send the Aztecs to the national final.

The first salvo of the evening came from San Diego State’s Matt Bradley. Bradley, the leading scorer for the Aztecs this season, struggled mightily in the South Regional, shooting 3-for-17 and combining for eight points in two games. On Saturday, he opened by making his first four shots, including a trio of three-pointers, to give the Aztecs a 14-5 lead.

On the other side, FAU guard Nick Boyd was feeling it in his own right. He buried three of his first four attempts from three-point distance, keeping the Owls in touch.

Both teams were red-hot from three-point range at the outset, eschewing the traditional norm of perimeter shooting struggles in a dome setting. Once the barrage slowed to some degree, FAU grabbed control with a 12-2 run to take a ten-point lead. The Owls executed at a high level on offense and also held the Aztecs to just two points in more than five minutes.

FAU led by a seven-point margin at the halftime break, scoring 40 points against a San Diego State that did not allow more than 64 points in any full game during the month of March. The Owls shot 54 percent from the field with six three-pointers, putting up nearly 1.3 points per possession against an elite defensive opponent.

The second half began with a slight downturn in explosiveness, as the teams combined to shoot just 5-of-14 before the under-16 timeout. The three-pointers were still going down, though, and FAU maintained a nine-point advantage.

With about 15 minutes remaining, FAU added to its lead with a five-point possession. SDSU’s Micah Parrish was whistled for a dead-ball technical for wielding an elbow and, after the Owls made a pair of free throws, FAU’s Alijah Martin drew a three-shot foul. That sequence gave the Owls a 14-point lead and made the task extremely difficult for San Diego State.

The Aztecs responded with a 9-2 run, including a pair of three-pointers from Parrish and three free throws by Bradley that doubled as his first points since the opening minutes. That badly-needed spurt brought San Diego State back within seven at the under-12 stoppage.

The upward trajectory didn’t stop there for the Aztecs, as San Diego State put together a 7-0 run to climb within 60-58 with 9:05 remaining. Bradley asserted himself after the lengthy period of inactivity, and the Aztecs clearly stiffened on defense while making the Owls more uncomfortable on the other end.

Not to be outdone, Martin continued to answer every SDSU haymaker with one of his own, scoring 14 of 16 points for the Owls. He converted a backdoor dunk to stop a mini-drought for FAU, and Martin connected on a three-pointer moments later to keep the Owls in front.

Things then slowed to a crawl due to a combination of a suddenly tight whistle and SDSU’s dominance on the offensive glass. The Aztecs secured eight offensive rebounds in fewer than three minutes, and a second-chance bucket brought San Diego State all the way back to tie the game with 4:24 remaining.

What followed was an extended stretch of sloppy play with turnovers, missed shots, errant free throws, and a great deal of drama. The end result on the scoreboard was exactly one point scored over a period of nearly three minutes, and FAU finally broke that drought with a pair of free throws from Johnell Davis with 1:20 to go. That gave the Owls a 69-66 lead, but SDSU’s Jaedon Ledee got to the rim and scored to make it a one-point game with less than a minute remaining.

After a stoppage, Martin continued his highly impressive second half with a beautiful and challenging reverse layup to give FAU a bit of extra cushion. Seconds later, Ledee continued his strong close to the game with a mid-range jumper to bring the Aztecs back within one point with 36.2 seconds remaining.

San Diego State was left with an intriguing decision on whether to foul with only a six-point differential, but the Aztecs chose to defend straight-up down by one and in the double bonus. Following a pair of FAU timeouts, Davis drove and missed at the rim, leaving the Aztecs with enough time to push the ball in semi-transition. Ultimately, it was Butler pulling up for a jumper at the buzzer and, when it dropped, the Aztecs advanced to Monday’s title game.

For FAU, it was a brutal way to end a fantastic season. The Owls never trailed in the second half until the final shot was in the air, and Martin’s 26-point performance wasn’t quite enough to secure the victory. FAU’s offense struggled to only 33 percent shooting after halftime and, with one too many empty possessions in the second half, the door was cracked open for San Diego State.

On the other side, the Aztecs erased a 14-point deficit in the second half, becoming just the fifth team ever to come back from that margin or greater in a Final Four game. It wasn’t pretty from Brian Dutcher’s team, but the Aztecs shot 4-for-7 from three-point range and generated numerous second-chance opportunities before Butler became the hero.

While much of the attention was on Florida Atlantic in the midst of a memorable run from a previously unheralded program, San Diego State’s run to the title game is also program-defining. The Aztecs will meet either UConn or Miami for the national title on Monday, and San Diego State’s elite-level defense will be difficult for either potential opponent to navigate.