Apr 1, 2023; Houston, TX, USA; San Diego State Aztecs guard Lamont Butler (5) celebrates with teammates after scoring the game-winning basket over Florida Atlantic Owls in the semifinals of the Final Four of the 2023 NCAA Tournament at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Lamont Butler’s buzzer-beater lifts San Diego State past Florida Atlantic in Final Four
It was madness. It was anarchy. It was everything that the NCAA Tournament is all about. And on Saturday afternoon inside NRG Stadium, the San Diego State Aztecs, powered by junior guard Lamont Butler, came from behind and stunned Florida Atlantic 72-71.
The Aztecs spent most of the game trying to catch up to the Owls, and in the end, improbably blew past them. Butler’s midrange pull-up jumper as time expired lifted San Diego State over Florida Atlantic and sent the crowd at NRG Stadium into a frenzy.
“It was about seven seconds after we got the ball, and [coach Brian Dutcher] told me to go downhill, get something at the rim,” Butler said. “They did a good job cutting me off. Once I looked up, it was two seconds left, I knew I had to make a shot. I got to a shot I’m comfortable with. Went to a pull-up; glad it went in.”
San Diego State fans exploded with joy. Florida Atlantic fans, who spent most of the game in a celebratory mood, were heartbroken.
As thousands of FAU students sprinted out of their designated section and back onto the upper concourse, some had expressions of shock, others were visibly sad, and all of them could not believe what they had just watched.
The game began with FAU and San Diego State taking turns getting a feel for one another, highlighted by two runs to start the game. The Owls scored the first five points, and the Aztecs countered with a 14-0 run.
Florida Atlantic scored seven straight after that, and the national semifinal was off to the races. Each team took turns trying to assert momentum, but neither created significant separation.
The game was tied at 26 with just under seven minutes left in the first half when Florida Atlantic went on one of its multiple runs to pull ahead. A pair of 3-pointers, one from junior guard Bryan Greenlee and the other from standout sophomore guard Alijah Martin, gave the Owls a six-point advantage.
At the four-minute mark in the first half, the FAU fans in their corner of NRG Stadium began cheering for their Owls to get a defensive stop against the Aztecs.
Florida Atlantic obliged and kept San Diego State from scoring on that same possession to the crowd’s delight. The Owls then got a turnaround jumper in the paint from sophomore forward Giancarlo Rosado, which made it 36-28.
San Diego State called a timeout, and the FAU flock inside the arena erupted into a frenzy. A few possessions later, Rosado hit another basket that made it 38-28. The Owls used the 12-2 run to sprint into halftime with the 40-33 edge.
While the Aztecs cut the Owls’ lead to just five within the first two minutes of the period, FAU remained poised and re-expanded its lead to as many as 14 points on multiple occasions.
Up 56-42, the Owls seemed to be on the verge of putting the game away. Instead, the Aztecs answered with a methodical run. Through the entire time, SDSU never felt like it couldn’t win the game, Houston native and senior guard Jaedon LeDee said.
San Diego State clawed its way back into the contest with an 18-6 stretch that took more than five minutes of game time. LeDee drained a hook shot that got the Aztecs within two points at 62-60.
“We said we could win this game,” LeDee said. “It was like, a lot of time left and then all these dudes in here are dogs. They are real dudes. They might have been up, but it is not over until it is over, and I think that is what makes us a good team.”
The game slowed down tremendously heading into the final minutes as both teams tried to make just enough plays to win the contest. San Diego State struggled to make baskets and free throws, but Florida Atlantic faltered at securing defensive rebounds and could not make any shots either.
Up 67-66, Owls sophomore guard Johnell Davis hit a pair of free throws to give them a three-point cushion. LeDee countered with two quick points on a right-handed hook shot to cut it back to one.
After a timeout, Martin drove down through the paint and converted a reverse layup to once again give FAU a three-point edge.
The Aztecs went to LeDee again to answer with two more points. Florida Atlantic failed to score on their final possession, which set the stage for Butler to become the latest in a long history of NCAA Tournament heroes.
“Lamont made the shot,” Dutcher said. “I always say March is for players, not coaches. Lamont made a play and made an old coach look good.”
Butler ended the game with nine points. LeDee’s 12 points were crucial to San Diego State’s rally. Senior guard Matt Bradley led the way with 21 points and six rebounds for the Aztecs.
San Diego State will play either Miami or Connecticut, who are doing battle Saturday night in the second Final Four matchup at NRG Stadium.
“This is what we set out to do at the beginning of the year,” Butler said. “I’m just happy we are in this position. We are going to fight our butts off to win this thing.”