HOUSTON — San Diego State coach Brian Hollander didn’t bother calling the final timeout because he didn’t want to have a play.
He doesn’t need one.
Lamont Butler has already won one game this season on a buzzer-beater for the Aztecs, so there’s no reason to think he can’t do it again. Although the stakes were only a tad higher than the West Mountain title.
After trailing for the final 27-plus minutes, Butler gave San Diego State its only lead, dropping a jumper to beat Florida Atlantic 72-71 to cap a stunning season in the Final Four on Saturday night.
“(Coach) told me it was down to getting something to the rim,” Pincerna said. “They did a good job cutting me off. After I looked up, there were two seconds left, I knew I had to make the shot.”
“I’m comfortable with the shot, it went to the pull-up. I’m glad it went in.”
So is anyone associated with San Diego State. Nearly 50 years after the NCAA’s first men’s tournament appearance, the fifth-seeded Aztecs will be in the championship game for the first time Monday night, against either Miami or UConn.
It was the second consecutive game San Diego State won by one point, and the third in which the Aztecs were tied for the half.
“We’ve been in that situation so many times throughout the year,” said Matt Bradley, who found his shooting stroke at 20 points. “We’re always addicted. But we always do the biggest things and get back and keep fighting.”
The Howlers started the tournament with a last second shot against Memphis, and ended the tournament the same way.
San Diego State erased a 14-point, second-half deficit with a 23-9 run on a second-chance layup by Aguek Arop with 4:24 to play. But Giancarlo Rosado responded with a turnaround jumper, and it looked like FAU might be able to hold off the Aztecs when Alijah Martin scored on a driving layup with 45 seconds to play.
Jaedon LeDee scored on a chest pullup to cut the Owls lead to 71-70 with 36 seconds left. The teams exchanged turnovers, and FAU called it another before Johnell Davis slipped in a pin with nine seconds left.
Nathan Mensah grabbed the rebound, and everyone in the arena assumed it was time for Holland. But Dutcher San Diego State had already told the players before the timeout to go down.
“I figured the ball would be left somewhere with seven seconds left if we were lucky,” Holland said. “I had three bigs in the game. I told them, ‘Run three guys to the rim, Lamont, go to the basket and let’s see what happens.'”
At the end of February, the Aztecs faced almost the same mission in New Mexico. There were only five seconds left on the clock, and Butler hit a 3 to win the game 73-71.
“Because I’ll tell you what to do, and I’ll just say, ‘Lamont, you’re having a ball, and you’re going to live with whatever happens,'” Batavius joked.
Mensah fired the ball to Butler, who looked to drive to the basket, but couldn’t get open with FAU’s Nick Boyd and Bryan Greenlee blocking the way. But he took a step back and pulled it off, sending it flying with 0.7 seconds left and Boyd’s hand in his face.
“I didn’t have many corners,” Butler said. “Like I said, he got me comfortable with the shot, the drop-pull-one. I just tried to sell it going to the rim, and he just got up and hit the shot.”
Rosado said, “It was great defense by Nick Boyd. You can’t play better defense than that. (Butler) just made a tough shot. All the respect to him.”
As in Albuquerque, shot at Butler.
“I was just shocked. I didn’t know how big he was,” said Butler, who looked stunned and lifted him into the air as the rest of the Aztecs surrounded him. “We’re going to the national championship, which is something not many people do.
“I’m not happy he went in,” he added. “He felt good when he left his hand.”
Sometimes the plans — or in the case of San Diego State, the plays — are overrated. Just tear it up and see where it takes you.
In this case, it takes the Aztecs to the national title hunt.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armor on Twitter @nrarmour.