San Diego State Aztecs make the Final Four for first time in school history
SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – Darrion Trammell made the second of two free throws with 1.2 seconds left to give San Diego State a 57-56 victory over Creighton Sunday in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament’s South Regional final, sending the Aztecs to their first Final Four.
“We’re grateful to be advancing,” San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher said. The Aztecs had never reached the Elite 8 before Friday’s 71-64 victory over Alabama, the tournament’s overall top seed. “I told the team in the locker room — they had the music going. I walked in, and I told them, `Turn it down.’ I said, `Either sing, dance, or get out of the way. Aztecs are going to the Final Four.”‘
Trammell was fouled by Ryan Nembhard. The 5-foot-10-inch senior guard’s first free throw went off the back iron before he made the second. The free throws were the only ones Trammell shot Sunday.
“They came off a little screen. He got downhill and tried to make a floater,” said Nembhard, a 6-foot sophomore guard from Aurora, Ontario. “I tried to make a rearview contest. Called a foul, so yeah.”
Trammell said he wasn’t surprised by the foul call.
“I think I got fouled, but it was up to the refs to decide,” said Trammell, who is in his lone season with San Diego State after playing the previous two seasons at Seattle and beginning his college career at City College of San Francisco. “Even if they didn’t call it, we were going to lace them up and get ready for an overtime.”
The Blue Jays had tied the score with 34 seconds remaining on Baylor Scheierman’s layup off an interception.
Scheierman’s long pass bounced off the hands of sophomore Arthur Kaluma out of bounds as time expired.
The Aztecs will face Florida Atlantic in a national semifinal Saturday in Houston. The Owls advanced to their first Final Four with a 79-76 victory over Kansas State in the East Regional final Saturday in New York City. Oddsmakers have made San Diego State a 1 1/2-point favorite.
The ABC News-owned data prediction website FiveThirtyEight gives the Aztecs a 62% chance of winning. It had given San Diego State a 46% chance of defeating Creighton.
Junior guard Lamont Butler scored a game-high 18 points for fifth- seeded San Diego State (31-6) while Trammell added 12.
Center Ryan Kalkbrenner led the sixth-seeded Blue Jays (24-13) with 17 while Kaluma and Scheierman added 12 each in front of a crowd announced at 20,051 at the Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.
“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 made 25 of 66 shots, 37.9%, including three of 13 3-point shots, 23.1%. Creighton made 22 of 55 shots, 40%, including two of 17 3-point shots, 11.8%. San Diego State made four of six free throws, 66.7%, the Blue Jays 10 of 11, 90.9%.
Kaluma is the brother of Aztecs senior forward Adam Seiko, who was scoreless in 22 minutes, 41 seconds of play, missing his only shot.
San Diego State trailed 33-28 at halftime, then scored the first six points of the second half on baskets by Nathan Mensah, Trammell and Butler for their third lead of the game. (Mensah scored the game’s first points on a jumper in the paint 25 seconds into play and Butler’s 3-point basket gave the Aztecs a 5-4 lead 1:50 later.)
The lead lasted until Kaluma’s jump shot in the paint 24 seconds later.
Neither team scored for the next 3:15 until Scheierman made three free throws when he was fouled by Micah Parrish while shooting a 3-point shot. A 3-point play by Kalkbrenner when he was fouled by Aguek Arop on a dunk completed an 8-0 run and gave Creighton a 41-34 lead with 13:14 to play, its biggest advantage of the second half.
San Diego State regained the lead with 6:45 remaining when Trammell completed a 9-2 run over 5:22 with a jump shot in the paint to put it ahead, 46- 45.
The Aztecs didn’t trail again, but were tied four times — 46-46 with 6:23 to play, 48-48 with 5:11 left, 54-54 with 2:00 remaining and 56-56 with 34 seconds to play.
The Blue Jays were also seeking their first Final Four berth. Creighton was playing in the Elite 8 for the second time and first time since 1941, when the tournament consisted of eight teams.
San Diego State is the first team from the Mountain West Conference to reach the Final Four and were the conference’s first team to reach the Elite 8. The conference began operations in 1999 and its first basketball season was 1999-2000.
The Aztecs had their 2021-22 season ended by Creighton, losing 72-69 in overtime in a first-round game of the NCAA tournament in a game San Diego State led 62-53 with 3:19 left in regulation, but never scored again in regulation. The Aztecs also led 69-66 with 2:06 remaining in overtime in that game, but never scored again.
San Diego State made its first Final Four on its 15th appearance in the tournament since becoming a Division I program in the fall of 1969. The Aztecs did not win a tournament game until 2011, their seventh appearance.
“Here we are,” Dutcher said. “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. 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.”