HOUSTON – Before San Diego State could ever be in position for Lamont Butler's buzzer-beater that lifted the Aztecs to a 72-71 victory over FAU in a Final Four thriller on Saturday night, the Aztecs had to rediscover their identity.
No. 5 seed SDSU entered allowing opponents to shoot just 40.8% from the floor and only 27.9% from 3-point range while giving up just 62.9 points per game. Defense is SDSU's hallmark and it was falling flat when the Aztecs fell behind 56-42 with 13:53 remaining.
No. 9 seed FAU shot 53.6% from the floor in the first half and made 6 of 14 attempts from beyond the arc, matching the allotment of 3-pointers that the Aztecs typically give up in an entire game.
"They just wore us down and got it in the paint multiple times," San Diego State wing Micah Parrish said. "It was tough for us, because they're kind of smaller than us. So it was easy for them to get in the paint. They're faster than most of our guys."
Then, the Aztecs encountered a new problem. In a span of just over four minutes early after halftime, they were whistled for six fouls as the Owls scored 10 of their first 20 points in the second half at the free-throw line.
"All we had to do was just get back to ourselves and collect ourselves," SDSU point guard Darrion Trammell said.
Once the Aztecs did that, the game changed, and San Diego State's largest comeback victory of the season ensued.
FAU shot just 33.3% in the second half and only scored two points at the free-throw line in the game's final 11 minutes. In that same stretch, the Owls only got one made field goal from someone other than Alijah Martin, who led all scorers with 26 points for FAU.
"Basketball is a game of runs and we understand that," Trammell said. "As a mature team, we understand that. I feel like a lot of teams don't really get that, and when a run happens, they fold. We're not that team. We just kept our heads up, kept our energy in the right way and did we what we do best, which is start defending."
During a six-minute stretch late in the second half, FAU mustered just one make from the floor. During that period, a five-point deficit became a three-point lead for the Aztecs. When it was over, the rally from a 14-point deficit marked the fifth-largest comeback win in Final Four history.
"We have a lot of maturity on this team," SDSU leading scorer Matt Bradley said. "That was nothing to us. We knew we had time on our side. We just got together and fought back, and I'm really proud of our guys."