The Butler does it again to lead the Aztecs to the Mountain West semifinals

In another big-time game, Lamont Butler delivers another big-time performance


Huy Huynh

Junior guard Lamont Butler drives through two Colorado State defenders in the Mountain West quarterfinals on March 9, 2023.

by Justin Cox, Sports Editor

LAS VEGAS – After hitting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to secure a share of the Mountain West Conference title, junior guard Lamont Butler came up huge in the San Diego State men’s basketball Mountain West quarterfinal win over the Colorado State Rams.

Butler had more late-game heroics in store but this time on the defensive end. With the Aztecs clinging to a two-point lead with 10.6 seconds left, the Rams passed the ball to their leading scorer senior guard Isaiah Stevens. Stevens drove down the court and pulled up for a potential game-tying jumper on the left wing, but Butler had a good contest and forced the miss. Following the game Stevens said Butler and the entire Aztec defense create difficult challenges — even for elite scorers. 

“They’re physical,” Stevens said. “They have great length on the perimeter, so it makes it hard to just attack normal matchups.” 

Butler led the team in scoring with 16 points and was the primary defender against Stevens. He made life difficult for the Rams’ leader, especially in the first half. Stevens played all 20 first-half minutes, yet he finished with zero points on 0-6 shooting. The Aztecs threw different looks at Stevens all game and players such as senior guards Darrion Trammell and Adam Seiko also took their turn on the Rams’ lead ball handler. 

“The plan was really just to try to deny him the ball,” Butler said. “Make every catch hard, and then on every shot try to contest. He led them all year, he’s a great player and it wasn’t just me or (Seiko). It was a team effort and we got it done.” 

The Aztecs had a slow start on offense, but Butler helped dig the Aztecs out of an early deficit. After missing two early jumpers, he continuously attacked the rim scoring eight points on four free throws and two layups including an and-one to give the Aztecs their first lead of the game late in the first half.

Junior guard Lamont Butler drives on senior guard Isaiah Stevens in the Mountain West quarterfinals on March 9, 2023.
Junior guard Lamont Butler drives on senior guard Isaiah Stevens in the Mountain West quarterfinals on March 9, 2023. (Huy Huynh)

“I missed a couple of shots early and I knew I just had to get the rim,” Butler said. “Coach has been harping on that since the start of the year. I got my rhythm and was just able to make plays, hit shots and get the win.” 

Even when Butler was not matched up with Stevens, he still found ways to make an impact. With 14:42 left in the second half, Stevens finally got his first bucket to fall after getting Butler switched off of him. The jumper gave Colorado State a short-lived two-point lead before Butler came down the court and drilled a 3-pointer to retake the lead and corral the stampeding Rams. 

Whenever the Rams started to gain momentum, Butler stepped up to stop the bleeding. As elite scorers tend to do, Stevens found his shooting stroke in the second half. With the Aztecs up four eight minutes left in the game, Stevens scored seven points in 90 seconds capped off by a transition 3-pointer on the left wing to take the lead. But once again Butler answered with a 3-pointer of his own to tie the game. Colorado State head coach Niko Medved said Butler looks comfortable playing under the brightest of lights. 

“He made a big three late when they needed it,” Medved said. “He’s been in a lot of games. He’s a terrific defender, he’s been in these moments throughout his whole career, so he knows what to do.” 

It wasn’t only Butler who came up big late in the game. Following Stevens’ missed jumper, CSU graduate forward Patrick Cartier grabbed the rebound and attempted a last-second layup, but Aztec senior forward Nathan Mensah blocked the shot to seal the win. 

Earlier this week Mensah was awarded his second-straight Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year award as voted on by the coaches, but it was Butler who won the award in the media poll. Following the win, Butler squashed any idea of a rivalry between the two lockdown defenders. 

“It’s all love,” Butler said. “We’re both top-level defenders and us on the team together, it’s just hard for other teams. We both DPOYs this year in my eyes.” 

If the Aztecs hope to have more big victories like the one Thursday afternoon as they play deeper into March, they will need big-time performances from all their players but luckily for them, it appears that in the biggest games it’s Butler who has continued to step up.