San Diego State shocks Florida Atlantic at buzzer, rallies to make first title game
San Diego State advances to title game on buzzer-beater 😱
It took another Houston buzzer-beater to decide an all-first timer Final Four semifinal.
San Diego State's Lamont Butler beat the horn and stunned Florida Atlantic as the No. 5 Aztecs advanced to their first title game with a 72-71 win Saturday at the Final Four. It was Butler's first made bucket since 8:50 remained in the first half. The buzzer beater came seven years since Villanova's Kris Jenkins beat North Carolina at the buzzer for the 2016 national championship in the last Houston-held Final Four.
LAMONT BUTLER WINS IT AT THE BUZZER 😱— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) April 2, 2023
THE AZTECS ARE #NATIONALCHAMPIONSHIP BOUND 🔥#MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/2sqxu5g05j
"A little shocked," Butler said of his reaction after the game. "I didn't really know, I mean, how big it was. We're going to the national championship. That's not things many people do."
FAU, which was trying to become the first No. 9 seed to ever make the title game, coughed up a 14-point second half lead because of another San Diego State tournament rally. The Aztecs (32-6) held the Owls to 33.3 percent shooting after halftime and did just enough on offense — a clutch offensive rebound here (nine in the second half), a free throw there — to set the stage for Butler's moment.
San Diego State was no stranger to comebacks this tournament. But on the biggest stage, the Aztecs had their biggest rally. They trailed No. 1 overall seed Alabama by 9 with 11:39 to go and were down by 7 to Creighton in the second half. Then came Saturday's surge from down 14. That's the fifth-largest rally in Final Four history.
|1989 semifinals||Seton Hall||Duke||18|
|2022 final||Kansas||North Carolina||16|
|1963 final||Loyola Chicago||Cincinnati||15|
|2023 semifinal||San Diego State||FAU||14|
Florida Atlantic (35-4) got 26 points from Alijah Martin, including an impressive and difficult layup that pushed FAU's lead to three late. But that was during an exchange of clutch shots after both teams went through poor shooting stretches in the second half both from the field and at the line.
Thanks to Jaedon Lee's jumper to cut it to one, Butler got his chance following a missed FAU shot. San Diego State, which led for the last time with 7:48 to play in the first half, will be taking the court on Monday night with a chance to win a title. It would be the first DI title for the school since 1973 in men's volleyball — a program the school no longer has.
As for FAU, the Owls entered March without one NCAA tournament win in its history. It leaves with four — and a surprising Final Four appearances as a No. 9 seed to go with 35 wins.
"We took it to a new height," FAU's Boyd said about the program. "All I can do is smile and be appreciative of the run we went on and know next year you're going to hear it from FAU again. You're going to see us in the same position, and it's going to be a different outcome, I promise you."
Aztecs are on another second-half rally 🍿
San Diego State did this to Alabama and Creighton. Why not again, this time in the Final Four?
After trailing the No. 1 Tide by 9 in the second half in the Sweet 16 and No. 6 Creighton by 7 in the Elite Eight, the Aztecs are off to another late-game run. Now San Diego State is down 65-60 with 7:15 to play.
Though FAU used free throws to push ahead by 14 with 13:53 remaining, the stingy Aztec defense took over. The Owls are shooting just 33.3 percent this half, allowing San Diego State to get back into things. Meanwhile, San Diego State is up to four 3s this half, with Matt Bradley coming on lately with 19 points.
FAU stretches lead to 9 as 15:56 remains
The Owls aren't shooting as hot this half, but they've still extended the advantage to nine at 49-40.
FAU is owning the glass early this half, already totaling four rebounds on the offensive end. They've also masked the poor shooting overall with a pair of 3-pointers.
Florida Atlantic continues to splash it from behind the arc 🔥#MarchMadness @FAUMBB pic.twitter.com/iuopELPzem— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) April 1, 2023
San Diego State is no stranger to coming back in the second half, however, as the Aztecs trailed both Alabama and Creighton before rallying.
FAU takes 7-point lead into halftime
FAU is doing what everyone else couldn't do all tournament — make shots against San Diego State.
The Owls topped 50 percent shooting in the first half and hit six 3-pointers to help them grab a 40-33 lead halfway through. That 3-pointers total is better than what No. 1 Alabama (2) and No. 6 Creighton (3) had all game against the Aztecs. Nick Boyd's three early 3s gave him nine points to lead FAU, but the Owls have flexed balance. Eight different players have a bucket.
But San Diego State hasn't been shy about converting its changes, either. Top scorer Matt Bradley, who had three field goals total his last two games (3 for 17 shooting) hit three 3s and leads all players with 11 points.
Now we'll have to see if FAU can keep it up for 20 more minutes.
Here's how the team stats look at the half:
FAU up 8 as shots continue to drop
The Owls aren't following the same path as San Diego State's vanquished foes.
FAU has six 3-pointers in the first half, surpassing the total of makes of Alabama, Creighton and Charleston each while matching Furman. The Owls are up 36-28 with 3:04 to play in the half and are shooting better than 50 percent from the floor.
The defensive effort on one end leads to a triple on the other 🔥#MarchMadness @FAUMBB pic.twitter.com/4PgtenlNdJ— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) April 1, 2023
San Diego State leads 16-15 as teams exchange shots
Some great pace in this one, as both teams are shooting well. Aztecs have a small 16-15 edge with 11:24 to play in the opening half.
Before going to the bench, the Aztecs' Matt Bradley was a perfect 4 for 4, including three 3-pointers. He's up to 11 points after totaling a combined eight his last two games. But FAU's Nick Boyd has also delivered, making a trio of 3s himself.
Matt Bradley is 3/3 from deep already ☔️ #MarchMadness @Aztec_MBB pic.twitter.com/6JvAS5YoIt— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) April 1, 2023
That's a notable departure — at least so far — in San Diego State tournament games. Teams shot only 17 percent from distance against the Aztecs, but the Owls are 3 for 7 today (42.9 percent).
San Diego State 8, FAU 5 |15:16 First
A very encouraging start for San Diego State's leading scorer Matt Bradley. He was cold in the last three games, making only six of his 27 attempts (22.2 percent), but he's a quick 2 for 2 to start the Final Four — a pair of 3-pointers.
Starting lineups in 👀
Final Four Saturday is finally here and the starting lineups are officially in. Here's how opening tip will look:As has been the talk all week, both the Aztecs and Owls have never been here before. But the two know how to win: FAU is 35-3 and San Diego State is 31-6. We'll see how they handle the moment.
San Diego State-FAU, previewed
Though the seeds and history says it's a shock they're even here, both Florida Atlantic and San Diego State have proven they belong.
Both the Owls and Aztecs are making their Final Four debuts in a season that included other firsts. FAU, playing in an arena with a capacity less than 3,000, had never been ranked before and had been in the NCAA tournament only once — a No. 15 seed in 2002. But they're 35-3 in 2022-23.
But Dusty May, in his fifth season, posted a winning record each year before the Owls rocketed to historic heights. FAU is 35-3 and reached No. 19 in the AP Poll in early February. The Owls swept both the C-USA regular season and tournament titles before earning a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament. From there, close games started (winning margins of 1, 8, 7 and 3). But all wins.
Offensively, the Owls are top-40 in points per game (78) and are top-15 in 3-pointers made (9.6 per game). Johnell Davis leads with 13.9 points per game while adding 5.5 boards. Vladislav Goldin puts in 10.3 points and 6.6 rebounds on 62.7 percent shooting. On defense, FAU is top-20 in FG percentage, as opponents are shooting just 40.2 percent.
On the other side, San Diego State comes in 31-6 after sweeping the Mountain West regular season and conference tournament.
The Aztecs have more history of past success than FAU does in March, as San Diego State reached the Sweet 16 in 2011 and 2014 and were 30-2 in the 2019-20 COVID-halted season.
Brian Dutcher is in his fifth season as coach. The longtime Steve Fisher assistant has the Aztecs rolling and maintaining its reputation as a top defensive program. San Diego State is holding foes to barely 40 percent from the field — rankings top-40 nationally — and a crippling 27.9 percent on 3-pointers. That matches with Houston as the second-best mark in the country, behind Tennessee's 26.5.
Matt Bradley's 12.5 points per game pace the Aztecs, with no one else averaging double figures. But others have stepped up throughout, from Darrion Trammell's 21 points against No. 1 Alabama in the Sweet 16 to Lamont Butler's 18 points on 11 shots in the Elite Eight win against No. 6 Creighton.
"It's very similar to competing against ourselves in practice," FAU coach May said Friday morning. "They've had four NCAA tournament games. They've had four leading scorers. So they're much like looking in the mirror and seeing yourselves. We never know who our leading scorer is going to be. But when you are a leading scorer, you generate a lot of attention and help those other guys be successful.
"Once again, it's a testament to those guys being unselfish, their sacrifice for the good of the team. So we're prepared for it because we see it every day. It's like looking in the mirror."
How to watch San Diego State vs. FAU
The first national semifinal is No. 5 San Diego State against No. 9 Florida Atlantic. Both teams are in the Final Four for the first time.
Here's how to watch:
- Time: 6:09 p.m. ET on Saturday, April 1
- Location: NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas
- Stream: Right here!
- TV: CBS
How they got here
Both FAU and San Diego State have already made program history by making it to Houston. The two are in the Final Four for the first time ever.
Here's how they got here:
No. 9 Florida Atlantic
|Def. No. 8 Memphis, 66-65||First Round||Def. No. 12 Charleston, 63-57|
|Def. No. 16 FDU, 78-70||Second Round||Def. No. 13 Furman, 75-52|
|Def. No. 4 Tennessee, 62-55||Sweet 16||Def. No. 1 Alabama, 71-64|
|Def. No. 3 Kansas State, 79-76||Elite Eight||Def. No. 6 Creighton, 57-56|
What the stats say
Both FAU and San Diego State have topped 30 wins this season, with the Owls reaching that mark before they played their first NCAA tournament game.
Here's how the two Final Four rookies compare:
No. 9 Florida Atlantic
|35-3 (18-2 C-USA)||RECORD (CONFERENCE)||31-6 (15-3 Mountain West)|
|No. 9||Seed||No. 5|
|40.2||FG % defense||40.8|
|14.6||Assists per game||13.2|
|6.5||Steals per game||6.8|
|2.6||Blocks per game||4.0|
|Johnell Davis, 13.9||Scoring leader||Matt Bradley, 12.5|
|Vladislav Goldin, 6.6||Rebounding leader||Nathan Mensah, 5.9|
|Nick Boyd, 2.5||Assists leader||3.3|