FAU vs San Diego State Final Four score, result, summary
Anybody who still needed convincing that the Florida Atlantic University Owls were no fluke and belonged in the Final Four had plenty of evidence by halftime of their thrilling semifinal game against San Diego State.
The ninth-seeded Owls not only proved they could carve through the Aztecs’ vaunted defense, they held a seven-point lead and had scored 40 points at the half against the favored fifth-seeded opponents.
FAU widened the gap to 14 points early in the second half, withstood a furious San Diego State rally that leveled the score with under five minutes to go, and was 17 seconds from going to the championship game.
But the Owls’ fairy tale run ended with a heartbreaking 72-71 loss on a buzzer-beating corner shot by Aztecs guard Lamont Butler.
FAU’s Johnell Davis missed a layup on the previous possession, SDSU senior Nathan Mensah grabbed the defensive rebound, the Aztecs raced up the court and Butler hit his game-winning shot.
The jubilant Aztecs piled on each other as the Owls watched in disbelief.
“I don’t even know what to say right now, this is crazy,” said Aztecs senior guard Matt Bradley. “Who would’ve imagined but us? Mont (LaMont Butler) man…the second time he did it this year and we all trusted him. He showed up when it mattered. I’m so proud of him. It’s crazy right now.”
Sophomore guard Alijah Martin led the Owls with 26 points on 7-of-13 shooting, made nine of his 10 free throws and had seven rebounds. Martin made clutch plays all night. When SDSU cut the deficit to two with eight minutes to go, Martin hushed the Aztec fans with a thunderous dunk. He followed that up with a three and blew a kiss as it fell through the net.
NRG Stadium was a sea of red on Saturday night, as both teams have the same team color. At the start of the game, the Aztecs fans were louder. They are known to travel well and came out in big numbers. By intermission, they were sapped of some energy and it was the Owls fans who were going berserk.
Both teams were Final Four first-timers, but FAU coach Dusty May felt confident his players would not be rattled on the biggest stage in the sport.
“I don’t think our guys are going to be fazed by the 70-plus-thousand, the lights, the attention, because they love ball,” May said before the game. “They love to compete. And they have a lot of faith in their teammates. That’s what got us to this point.”
The Owls had already proven they probably deserved better than their No. 9 seeding.
They entered the NCAA Tournament with a 31-3 record and won the Conference USA title. After beating No. 8 seed Memphis and No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson (which stunned top seed Purdue in the opening round), FAU knocked off No. 4 Tennessee and No. 3 Kansas State.
Tennessee was known for its suffocating defense, but the Owls, who average 78.8 points per game, were not intimidated by the Vols. The Owls felt that game against Tennessee helped prepare them for a San Diego State team that prided itself on its defense.
One big question going into the semifinal was whether the Aztecs could shut down the Owls’ perimeter shooting. FAU likes to shoot threes, took 44 percent of its field-goal attempts from three-point range and made 9.6 per game. The Aztecs were holding opponents to 17 percent beyond the arc during the NCAA Tournament and distance shooting in a dome often presents an extra challenge
The Owls’ sharpshooters seemed undeterred by the Aztecs. They were getting pressure on the rim, getting good shots and making them.
At halftime FAU was shooting 43 percent from three-point range (6-of-14) and 54 percent overall.
It turns out the Owls can play defense, too. They were tied 15-15 with the Aztecs on the boards at halftime and had four steals to one.
The Owls got on the scoreboard first with a three-pointer by redshirt freshman guard Nick Boyd on the opening possession.
SDSU senior guard Matt Bradley then showed he, too, was unfazed by the cavernous arena. He scored 11 points in the first five minutes, making his first four shots, three of them from beyond the arc. Bradley led the Aztecs on a 14-0 early run to give SDSU a 14-5 lead.
The Owls then came alive and went on a 7-0 run to get back into the game. A three-pointer by Boyd followed by a Vladislav Golden layup tied the score.
The teams traded leads for the next few minutes, but a trio of baskets by sophomore West Palm Beach native Giancarlo Rosado stretched FAU’s lead to 10. Bradley led FAU with 21 points.
SDSU beat No. 12 seed Charleston, No. 13 seed Furman, No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Creighton to reach the Final Four.
This story was originally published April 1, 2023, 8:52 PM.