No play? No problem: Lamont Butler's stunning last-second shot sends San Diego State past Florida Atlantic
HOUSTON -- San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher didn't bother calling a final timeout because he didn't have a play he wanted to call.
He didn't need one.
Lamont Butler had already won the Aztecs one game this season on a buzzer-beater, no reason to think he couldn't do it again. Even if the stakes were just a tad higher than clinching the Mountain West title.
After trailing for the final 27-plus minutes, Butler gave San Diego State the only lead that mattered, draining a pull-up jumper as time expired to stun Florida Atlantic 72-71 in the Final Four on Saturday night.
"(Coach) 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. I'm glad it went in."
So is anyone associated with San Diego State. Almost 50 years after making their first NCAA men's tournament appearance, the fifth-seeded Aztecs will be in the championship game for the first time Monday night, against either Miami or UConn.
It was the second consecutive game San Diego State has won by one point, and the third in which the Aztecs have had to rally in the second half.
"We'd been in that position so many times throughout the year," said Matt Bradley, who found his shooting stroke in time to score 21 points. "We've always been knocked down. But the biggest thing we always do is get back up and keep fighting."
The Owls began the tournament escaping with a last-second shot, against Memphis, and they exited the tournament the same way.
San Diego State erased a 14-point, second-half deficit with a 23-9 run, tying it up on a second-chance jumper by Aguek Arop with 4:24 to play. But Giancarlo Rosado responded with a turnaround jumper, and it looked as if FAU was going to be able to hold the Aztecs off when Alijah Martin scored on a driving layup with 45 seconds to play.
Jaedon LeDee scored on a pullup jumper to cut the Owls' lead to 71-70 with 36 seconds left. The teams exchanged timeouts, and FAU called another before Johnell Davis missed a driving layup with nine seconds left.
Nathan Mensah grabbed the rebound, and everyone in the arena assumed Dutcher would call a timeout. But Dutcher had already told the San Diego State players in the previous timeout to get downhill.
"I figured we'd get the ball somewhere around seven seconds left if we were lucky," Dutcher said. "I had three bigs in the game. I told them, 'You three guys run to the rim, Lamont, you go to the basket and let's see what happens.' "
LAMONT BUTLER WINS IT AT THE BUZZER 😱
THE AZTECS ARE #NATIONALCHAMPIONSHIP BOUND 🔥#MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/2sqxu5g05j
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) April 2, 2023
It was almost the same scenario the Aztecs had faced at New Mexico at the end of February. Only there were five seconds left on the clock there, and Butler hit a 3 to win the game 73-71.
"I'll quit telling him what to do and just say, 'Lamont, you get the ball and I'll live with whatever happens,' " Dutcher joked.
Mensah fired the ball to Butler, who looked to drive to the basket but couldn't find an opening with FAU's Nick Boyd and Bryan Greenlee blocking his way. Instead, he took a step back and pulled up, letting fly with 0.7 seconds left and Boyd's hand in his face.
"There wasn't really many angles I had," Butler said. "Like I said, I got to a shot I'm comfortable with, one-dribble pull-up. I just tried to sell I was going to the rim, and I just rose up and hit the shot."
Said Rosado, "It was great defense by Nick Boyd. You can't play better defense than that. (Butler) just made a tough shot. All respect to him."
Just as it did in Albuquerque, Butler's shot went in.
"A little shocked. I didn't really know how big it was," said Butler, who looked stunned as Arop lifted him into the air and the rest of the Aztecs surrounded him. "We're going to the national championship; that’s a thing not many people do.
"I’m just happy it went in," he added. "It felt good when it left my hand."
Sometimes, plans -- or in San Diego State's case, plays -- are overrated. Just let it rip and see where it takes you.
In this case, it's taking the Aztecs to the national title game.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lamont Butler's last-second shot sends SDSU past FAU to title game