San Diego State heads to Final Four after beating Creighton late free throw
San Diego State is bound for the Final Four for the first time. Darrion Trammell sank the second of two free throws with 1.2 seconds remaining as the Aztecs outlasted Creighton 57-56 in a tightly contested and physically intense South Regional final in Louisville on Sunday.
Trammell finished with 12 points, none bigger than the last one. Lamont Butler led the Aztecs with 18 as SDSU became the second team to be headed to the Final Four for the first time this season after Florida Atlantic earned its first trip Saturday. The two schools will meet in one of the semifinals next week in Houston.
"We're making the next step, and it's something we've always talked about, and I'm sure there were people that doubted we could do it, but we never doubted for a minute," San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher said. "Not to say it's easy to get there or that we would ever get there, but we're there now, and we're going to go and try to win the thing."
The ending, unfortunately, was not without controversy. Creighton’s Ryan Nembhard was whistled for a foul on Trammell’s attempt at a go-ahead jumper. There was contact on the play, but protests from the Bluejays were to no avail.
Trammell missed the first free throw but made the second, and Creighton’s last-ditch effort to go the length of the floor was broken up.
"I wouldn't say I was surprised," Tramell said of the call. "I think I got fouled, but it was up to the refs to decide. Even if they didn't call it, we were going to lace them up and get ready for an overtime.
"I feel like I've shot probably 1,000 free throws in the last week. So at the end of the day, I feel like I put in the work to be able to step up and have the confidence that I was going to make them."
Creighton coach Greg McDermott didn't blame the final call for the loss.
"Two teams played their tails off and officiating is part of the game," he said. "We’re not going to go there. We lost the game because we didn’t do enough and San Diego State did."
Still, the finish was a disappointment to have an ending come on a call that wasn't clear-cut.
"It's a tough feeling," Nembhard said. "You work so hard all year, and it comes down to a play like that, I don't know. I think we could have done a little bit more to make it a game that didn't have to go down to that, but it's a tough way to lose.
The Aztecs trailed for most of the first half, by as many as eight on a couple of occasions, and were down 33-28 at the intermission. But they staged a 6-0 run coming out of halftime to take the lead briefly, and things were close the rest of the way. The Bluejays tied the game at 56-all with 32 seconds on a steal and layup by Baylor Scheierman.
Ryan Kalkbrenner paced Creighton with 17 points, as the Bluejays used his size advantage to good effect early. But San Diego State stayed within shouting distance in part by dominating the offensive glass.
It was a rematch of a first-round contest in last year’s tourney, as the Bluejays as a No. 9 seed outlasted the Aztecs in overtime. Both programs, in fact, have become NCAA tournament regulars but were each in the round of eight for the first time.
This season’s run marked the first tournament victories for San Diego State in coach Brian Dutcher’s six years at the helm. This Final Four run is a measure of redemption for SDSU, which was slated to be a very high seed in 2020 before the COVID pandemic forced the tournament’s cancelation.
Creighton reached the Sweet 16 for the first time two seasons ago and took another step this season but is still in search of a Final Four berth. The Creighton loss assured that four different conferences will be represented next weekend in Houston.
"I won't allow (the loss) to take away from what these guys have accomplished, how they've galvanized not just a campus community or an Omaha community, but really anybody that's had anything to do with Creighton that's been touched by Creighton in any way in their lives, they've stopped what they were doing the last couple Friday and Sundays, and they came on this ride with us," McDermott said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: San Diego State reaches first Final Four by beating Creighton