San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

Lamont Butler’s game-winner lifts the Aztecs to the National Championship

The biggest defensive possession all year, followed by a Lamont Butler game-winner lifts the Aztecs into the National Championship
Noelani Sapla
Senior Lamont Butler celebrates following SDSU’s 72-71 win over FAU in the Final Four on Saturday, April 1.

HOUSTON— From an arena that holds 12,000, to one that holds 70,000.

The San Diego State University men’s basketball team played their Final Four matchup at NRG Stadium, an arena with six times the capacity of Viejas Arena. Yet the magnitude of the occasion, as well as the surging Florida Atlantic University Owls, were unable to derail the Aztecs from what seems like destiny.

The Aztecs fate came down to its defense, who executed as they had all season. Senior Aguek Arop forced an airball before junior Lamont Butler came down the court and hit the biggest shot in SDSU history, a game-winner to send the Aztecs to the National Championship.

“The plan was just to get downhill,” Butler said. “They cut me off a little bit. I looked up and there were two seconds left so I got to a shot I’m comfortable with and I hit it. I’m just happy for my team right now.”

The five-seeded Aztecs beat the nine-seeded Owls 72-71 on Saturday, April 1 to advance to the biggest stage in college basketball.

“I’m just happy these guys get to experience it for the first time,” head coach Brian Dutcher said. “My coaching staff, I’m so proud of all of them and the hard work they’ve put in. They’re deserving.”

The Owls started the game hot with consecutive buckets to go up five.

But the Aztecs came barking right back.

Senior Matt Bradley got things going from deep with two consecutive 3-pointers. With just his first two shots he already tied his game total against Alabama (six) and passed his total against Creighton (two).

But Bradley was nowhere near finished. Following senior Nathan Mensah’s and one to take an 8-5 lead. Bradley hit another two shots, passing his total against Furman (10) with 11. It was a 14-0 run for the Aztecs, tied for their third-largest run of the season, taking them to a 14-5 lead. 

The 14-point margin was also the largest deficit SDSU had overcome all season, topping the previous 13-point deficit at New Mexico on Feb. 25. Coincidentally, Butler also hit a game winner to beat the Lobos. 

FAU came storming back with a 7-0 run of their own and the game was knotted at 17-17 with 11 minutes to go.

An even 9-9 run followed until the Owls started to soar with back-to-back 3s. Senior Aguek Arop’s layup temporarily declawed the Owls but they struck right back with six more points, 38-28 Owls.

With 1:30 remaining in the half, another Arop layup helped slow the Aztec bleeding but the Owls had already found their groove. Sophomore Alijah Martin scored and-one before senior Keshad Johnson, one of the least likely to, hit a 3-pointer from the corner to cut the Owls lead to seven going into the half.

Senior Aguek Arop erases a shot during SDSU's 72-71 win over FAU in the Final Four on Saturday, April 1.
Senior Aguek Arop erases a shot during SDSU’s 72-71 win over FAU in the Final Four on Saturday, April 1. (Noelani Sapla)

The Aztecs trailed 40-33 at half with both teams shooting tremendously. The Aztecs were 45% from deep while the Owls were 43%.

Both teams opened the second half with a 3-pointer. But it was the Owls who added a second shot from behind the arc and took over in the next seven minutes. A 16-9 run for the Owls extended their lead. Seven consecutive free throws for Martin played a large role as the Aztecs’ emotions began to show. Senior Micah Parrish jabbed junior Brandon Weatherspoon with a soft elbow to the chest resulting in technical free throws before Martin added the rest from the line. Martin ended the game 9-10 from the charity stripe.

Parrish responded to the adversity massively with a 3-pointer before Bradley added three free throws of his own — cutting the lead to 56-48.

Sophomore Johnell Davis dropped in a layup before Parrish, again, added another huge 3-pointer. 

SDSU continued to build momentum off a 9-5 run, and the roof started to take off as Aztec cheers echoed across the 70,000-capacity stadium. Bradley’s five and LeDee’s four could not have come at a better time.

But a Martin 3-pointer silenced the Aztec fans, and turned the stadium into a sea of FAU jeers.

An array of misses followed for both teams and with six minutes to go, FAU led by just five. 

The free throw fortune began to switch for the Aztecs late in the half. LeDee continued his impact off the bench, adding a free throw before Bradley added one more to cut the lead to three. Arop was next to the line and added one more. He missed his second attempt before Bradley grabbed the rebound and found Arop for a midrange jumper to tie the game at 65. 

Offensive rebounds were huge for the Aztecs during the stretch. They dropped easy points at the charity strike but thanks to six offensive boards to the Owls one defensive in the last two minutes, the Aztecs kept creating opportunities.

FAU sophomore Giancarlo Rosario, who finished with a game-high +14, added a fading midrange down on the baseline to retake the lead. 

With two minutes to go, senior Darrion Trammell’s steal sent the Aztecs on the break. Bradley rose for a lay up but was fouled to the discontent of the Owls fans. Bradley only dropped one as the Aztecs’ free throw struggles continued.

“It’s never the same as shooting 100 on your own in the gym,” Dutcher said. “Shoot it in the stadium with the game on the line, it’s hard to make.”

With 1:20 remaining, Davis found himself at the free throw line to bring the Owls lead to 69-66, he did. LeDee then made his way into the paint on the other side of the floor and banked in a layup. 

The Owls led 69-68 and retained possession of the ball with just under 58 seconds to go.

Martin, who ended with a game-high 26 points, was the Owls’ trusted player to extend the lead. He worked his way into a tough up-and-under layup with Johnson’s extended arm attempting to erase the shot, but it fell in gracefully.

The Aztecs came back down following a timeout and immediately found LeDee down low who added two.

With 17.5 seconds to go, FAU called a timeout before failing to inbound the ball and being forced to call another.

Aztec players celebrate following their 72-71 win over FAU in the Final Four on Saturday, April 1.
Aztec players celebrate following their 72-71 win over FAU in the Final Four on Saturday, April 1. (Noelani Sapla)

The biggest defensive possession in SDSU history followed. Arop forced a miss before Butler, as he had done before, drove down the court and hit the game-winner from the baseline.

Pandemonium ensued.

“Lamont Butler is the all-time leading scorer at his high school, Long Beach Poly, and Reggie Miller played there. So I don’t need to tell you that he can put it in the basket,” Dutcher said. “We knew what we were getting with Lamont, getting a leader, a tough hard-nosed kid, and he has the ability to score the ball when he needs to.”

Monday, April 3, the Aztecs return to NRG Stadium for their guaranteed final game of the season. They play in the National Championship against either the four-seed University of Connecticut or the five-seed University of Miami.

About the Contributors
Morgan Prickett
Morgan Prickett, '22-23 Sports Editor
Morgan Prickett (he/him/his) is a journalism major heading into his senior year. He was born in Libreville, Gabon and has lived in multiple countries before arriving here at SDSU. He is a soccer writer for the local news site East Village Times, the president of the National Association of Black Journalists chapter at SDSU, and also serves as the VP of External Relations on SDSU’s School of Professional Studies and Fine Arts College Council. If he’s not watching or playing sports, he’s most likely jamming out to music while preparing a home cooked meal in his kitchen. This year he is looking forward to bringing coverage to all sports at SDSU in the most entertaining way possible.
Noelani Sapla
Noelani Sapla, Staff Photographer, '21-22 Photo Editor
Born and raised in San Diego, Noelani is a graduate student at San Diego State University working towards a masters degree in education. She joined the Daily Aztec staff as the photo editor for the 2021-2022 year, and is currently a staff photographer. She credits the Daily Aztec for the experience and opportunities to cover the NCAA tournament in Houston where the men's basketball team played in the national championship game. While having a degree in education and teaching, Noelani's dream is to become a professional sports photographer.
Activate Search
San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913
Lamont Butler’s game-winner lifts the Aztecs to the National Championship