Bryce Miller: Lamont Butler's final shot at Final Four ensures San Diego State's 'thrill ride' continues

Bryce Miller, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Basketball

HOUSTON — Thrill rides often come without dependable brakes. Just when you’re cruising, the wind in your hair, buzzing around all those exhilarating hairpin corners, heart pounding, it careens off course.

The thing about special drives like that is the painful finality of things when emotions crash headlong into the guardrail.

San Diego State junior guard Lamont Butler grabbed the wheel before that could happen, impossibly snatching it at the last second, correcting course. His last-second jump shot for the ages and ageless — a deft dagger as the game clock expired — stunned Florida Atlantic, stunned NRG Stadium, stunned millions on TV and stunned all who are stun-able Saturday in an unforgettable 72-71 win that propelled the Aztecs into Monday’s national championship game.

“It’s unbelievable,” Butler said. “It’s what I came here to do. I’m glad the shot went in.”

Glad? There are about 1,000,000 more robust, fitting words for Butler’s icy-veins rainbow that splashed and caused those crammed into a 72,000-seat NFL stadium to lose their absolute marbles.

The Aztecs last led at 24-23 with 7:48 left in the first half. The Owls pushed the lead to 14 in the second half, fearlessly flying into the fray of San Diego State’s forest of ready shoulders, hips and elbows. Instead of coming out the other side with the muffler and bumper hanging like a teen’s first car, they calmly controlled things.


Then came the least roaring comeback, perhaps, in Final Four history. It came in drips, rather than a springtime flood. A basket here. A free throw there. A hustle stop.

Florida Atlantic’s lead withered more than melted.

San Diego State missed seven of its last 11 free-throw attempts in the final 6:45 of the game. The bluest-collared bunch in the NCAA Tournament began an offensive rebounding clinic — tripling the three they recorded in the first half — to machete a different path.

It was over … until it wasn’t.


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