San Diego State and Florida Atlantic met in the Final Four, the first appearance in a national semi-final for both schools. They are two teams with similar styles. Both have a commitment to defense and have no problem playing eight or nine guys because they have enough talent to do it.
On this night the Aztecs did it better than the Owls.
Lamont Butler, the junior guard who hit a buzzer beater to knock off New Mexico and secure a Mountain West Conference title, did it again on the biggest stage imaginable. Butler hit a walk-off pull-up jumper to give SDSU a 72-71 win at NRG Stadium in Houston, putting the Aztecs in the national championship game against either Miami (FL) or Connecticut on Monday night.
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The Owls scored the game's first five points then the Aztecs went on one of their vintage streaks, scoring 14 unanswered points to take a 9-point lead. Senior forward Matt Bradley hit three straight 3-pointers and scored all 11 of his first-half points during the run. After that FAU started doing to SDSU what SDSU usually does to everyone else: lock up the paint, deny penetration, and contest every shot.
It got them right back into it and then some.
All nine Owls who got on the floor in the 1st half scored. Florida Atlantic shot better than 50% from the field and when Alijah Martin hit a layup to make it 40-30 FAU became the third team all season to reach the 40-point mark before halftime against the Aztecs. Senior guard Keshad Johnson hit a 3-pointer to make it 40-33 at the break and provide some hope of a comeback.
It took a while but it was worth the wait.
The lead hovered around 10 for the first part of the 2nd half until Micah Parrish got hot and hit a pair of 3-pointers to drop the Owls lead to single digits. Each time the Owls answered with a hoop or a couple of free throws. But, you don't get to be one of the last four teams standing unless you have some fight in you.
Bradley drilled a 3 and hit a couple of free throws, and senior forward Jaedon LeDee ... a Houston native ... started asserting himself down low with a couple of short jumpers. All of a sudden the Owls' 14-point lead was down to two at 62-60 and they finally pulled even when Aguek Arop hit a baseline jumper to tie the game 65-65.
Giancarlo Rosado made a jumper for the Owls with 4:03 to play. After that these teams traded buckets and free throws. Johnell Davis missed a shot with 10 seconds left.
Butler ended up with it and head coach Brian Dutcher trusted his guy. Lamont pulled up with a second left and, as the click hit 00.0, the shot landed in the middle of the hoop to set off a wild celebration for the Aztec nation. The 14-point comeback is the fifth-largest in Final Four history.
Just another chapter in what has become one of the most astonishing sporting seasons San Diego has ever seen.