Lamont Butler scored the go-ahead basket on the final possession and secured San Diego State’s spot in the national championship Monday.
When San Diego State needed a bucket to save its season, Lamont Butler answered the call.
The Aztecs trailed Florida Atlantic by as many as 14 points in a thrilling national semifinal, culminating in Butler drilling a pull-up jumper to secure a 72-71 victory for San Diego State.
“The play was just to get downhill,” Butler said. “They cut me off a little bit. I looked up and there were two seconds left so I got to a shot I’m comfortable with and hit it.”
Though it was the most important basket of Butler’s career, it’s not the first time the junior guard has delivered in the clutch for the fifth-seeded Aztecs, who are now just one win from a national title.
Back on Feb. 25, New Mexico had SDSU on the ropes in Albuquerque, up by a point on the final possession. Butler calmly pocketed a similar dribble-hesitation move into a pull-up jumper, downing the Lobos with a dagger 3-pointer.
Though Butler is SDSU’s third-leading scorer, he has developed into the team’s calming presence in high-leverage situations this season. It wasn’t always this way, though, and Butler will be the first to admit it.
In San Diego State’s second game at the Maui Invitational against Arkansas earlier this year, Butler committed an untimely foul with 13 seconds left, allowing the Razorbacks to pull within two after a pair of free throws. Butler then coughed up the ball on the ensuing inbounds play, eventually leading to Arkansas stealing a win in overtime — a devastating six-second span that proved costly against the eighth-ranked Razorbacks.
Butler took on a mantra after the Arkansas loss with a simple message: “I can’t let six seconds define who I am.”
The time on the clock when Butler took the inbounds to beat New Mexico? Exactly six seconds.
On Saturday, with SDSU’s season in the balance, Butler crossed halfcourt with six seconds to go. Once again, just like in Albuquerque, Butler was ready for the moment.
“It just means I need to stay humble, keep my head down and keep working,” Butler said about his personal rallying cry during the media availability earlier in the week in Houston.
Saturday’s six-second spotlight was a full-circle moment for Butler. Stashed behind a veteran-led group as a freshman, the Moreno Valley, Calif., native is the latest development success story for the San Diego State program. Even with Cal transfer Matt Bradley (21 points) and TCU transfer JaeDon Ledee (12 points) serving as the team’s leading scorers Saturday, head coach Brian Dutcher leaned on the player who has been forged in the fires at SDSU.
“They are (fearless),” Dutcher said. “I ran out of plays, so I decided not to take a timeout. I said, ‘if we get the rebound, let’s get downhill and send all three bigs to the rim.’ Lamont got downhill and he made a play. I’m proud of him.”
Poetically, Butler rose to the occasion during the biggest play in program history. Now, thanks to his latest six-second heroics, San Diego State is 40 minutes from its first national championship.
Header photo courtesy of Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images