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HOUSTON – San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher was fresh out of plays, so he just went with it.
And won with it – 72-71 over Florida Atlantic on a jumper by Lamont Butler at the buzzer in the first game of the Final Four on Saturday night at NRG Stadium.
After Florida Atlantic’s Johnell Davis missed a layup with 10 seconds left, and San Diego State’s Nathan Mensah rebounded, Dutcher chose not to call a timeout. San Diego State just rushed down court, Butler got it, dribbled right, then left, and launched a 14-foot jumper for the win.
“I looked up and saw there were two seconds left, so I took a shot and hit it,” Butler said just as he received a Gatorade shower from teammates. “It’s unbelievable. I’m glad the shot went in.”
A junior from Moreno Valley, California, Butler finished with nine points.
San Diego State Coach Had No More Plays Left
“I ran out of plays,” Dutcher said. “So, I decided not to call a timeout. I just told the guys to get downhill.”
The Aztecs (32-6) advance to the national championship game. They will play the winner of No. 4 seed Connecticut (29-8) and No. 5 seed Miami (29-7), which tipped at 8:49 p.m. on CBS. The national title game will be at 9:20 p.m. Monday on CBS.
Dutcher showed his hand should such a situation come up at his press conference on Friday when he said March is for the players.
“Lamont made the shot,” he said at Saturday’s press conference. “I always say March is for players – not coaches. Lamont made a play, and made an old coach look good. And on as big a stage as there is in the national semifinals, to make that shot was incredible. I can’t wait to go back and see it on tape. He found a way to make an incredible shot to send us to the next round.”
FAU finished 35-4. The Owls led 40-33 at the half after leading by as many as 10 late in the half. The Aztecs’ last lead of the game before the game winner was 24-23 with 7:51 to go in the first half.
The Owls took a 54-40 advantage past the 15-minute mark of the second half.
Florida Atlantic Shocked
“I was in shock when the buzzer went off,” FAU guard Nick Boyd said. “But, I mean, it’s the game of basketball.”
The game between two schools on opposite coasts turned into a thriller of the last several minutes of the game with FAU clinging to small leads. The men’s side of the Final Four made a bid to equal the drama of the women’s Final Four four hours north in Dallas.
“I’m just happy for my teammates,” Butler said.
Senior guard Matt Bradley led San Diego State with 21 points.
Houston’s own Jaedon LeDee added 12 with six rebounds for the Aztecs. A transfer forward from Texas Tech after the previous two seasons and Ohio State as a freshman, LeDee went to The Kincaid School in Houston.
Alijah Martin led Florida Atlantic with 26 points. His spectacular reverse layup with 42 seconds to go put the Owls up 71-68. LeDee hit two free throws with 38 seconds left to put San Diego State within 71-70 and set up the final sequence.
“Looking back on the performance, it just wasn’t enough,” Martin said. “And to realize that something has come to an end, it was devastating.”