HOUSTON — Lamont Butler drilled a jumper at the buzzer that lifted fifth-seeded San Diego State to a 72-71 victory over No. 9 Florida Atlantic in the first national semifinal at the Final Four in Houston.
Butler provided the Aztecs (32-6) their first lead of the second half and sent San Diego State into the national championship game on Monday.
FAU (35-4) led by as many as 14 points but made just four baskets over the final 8:52, three by Alijah Martin, who had a game-high 26 points.
Martin gave FAU a 71-68 lead with his layup with 45 seconds left. But Jaedon LeDee countered with a jumper for the Aztecs, who held defensively one final time to set the table for Butler.
Matt Bradley paced the Aztecs with 21 points while LeDee added 12.
Nick Boyd scored 12 points for the Owls, who shot 33.3 percent in the second half and allowed 11 second-chance points for the game.
Martin sank five free throws during an extended FAU possession, lifting the Owls to their largest lead of the game at 54-40.
The Aztecs answered with a 16-4 run that featured 3s from Micah Parrish and Bradley, plus five Bradley free throws as San Diego State closed to within two.
Martin appeared to stave off the comeback with a dunk off a backdoor cut and a 3 with 7:44 left for a 65-60 lead.
But the Aztecs finally locked in on defense, holding FAU scoreless over three-plus minutes while producing a dominant stretch of offensive rebounding. That culminated in a second-chance basket from Aguek Arop that tied the score at 65-65 with 4:24 left to play.
Bradley started 4-for-4 from the floor with a trio of 3-pointers, recording 11 points during a 14-0 run that yielded a 14-5 lead for the Aztecs. But the Owls weathered that blow and quickly discovered their offensive rhythm, starting with a pair of Boyd 3s that fueled a 10-2 FAU spurt.
San Diego State countered with four consecutive field goals and pulled even at 26-26 with 6:40 remaining in the first half, but the Aztecs struggled to contain the Owls’ diverse scoring attack.
Giancarlo Rosado followed a Martin step-back 3 with three successive baskets in the paint, the third capping a 12-2 run that resulted in the Owls’ first double-digit lead at 38-28.
San Diego State shaved that deficit to 40-33 by the intermission but allowed FAU to shoot 53.6 percent from the floor, including 6 of 14 from behind the arc.
–By MoiseKapenda Bower, Field Level Media