LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — Darrion Trammell actually hits enough free throws that he believes at least one will fall when things go wrong.
The 5-foot-10-inch senior guard at San Diego State University was fouled by Clayton’s Ryan Nemhardt when he put a floater near the free-throw line in a steep NCAA Tournament East Region final with 1.2 seconds remaining.
Trammell’s first free throw hit the rim, but he knocked down his second free throw. That was enough to propel the defense’s first Aztecs to their first Final Four on Sunday with a 57-56 victory.
Lamont Butler scored 18 points, while Trammell scored 12 points for fifth-seeded San Diego State (31-6), ahead of high-scoring sixth-seeded Clayton (24-13), ahead of Mountain West. It was the first conference team to participate in a national competition. Semifinals.
The seasoned Aztecs, entering their sixth season under coach Brian Dutcher, will take on the stunning East Region champions, ninth-seeded Florida Atlantic, in a national title match in Houston on Saturday.
“Here I am,” said Dutcher, a longtime assistant to his predecessor, Steve Fisher. “We are taking the next step and that is what we have always talked about.
“I wouldn’t say it’s easy to get there or we’ll get there someday. But we’re there now and we’re going to go win.”
In the final seconds, Trammell dribbled from the perimeter and rose for a potential winning shot. Chasing Nemhard put his hand on Trammel’s hip and was whistled for a foul, sending Trammell to the line for the first time in the game.
Trammell, named the best player in the region, said: “And today, I feel like I worked hard to be able to step up and have the confidence that I will succeed.”
Please make it anyway.
Creighton failed to get a shot on the last desperate play. Baylor Shireman threw the ensuing inbounds pass at floor length. San Diego State’s Aguek Arop and Creighton’s Arthur Kaluma both jumped and the ball swerved out of bounds. The officials reviewed the play and decided that time had run out, so a celebration was held for the Aztecs.
Clayton coach Greg McDermott said, “There was no explanation other than that there was no time on the clock.” I’m not going there.”
Shireman tied the game 56-all when he stole an inbounds pass with 34 seconds remaining and scored a layup.
With Ryan Kalkbrenner scoring 17 points and Scheierman and Kaluma each scoring 12 points, the Bluejays scored 2 out of 17 out of a 3 point range.
Thanks to defense and physical play, the Aztecs won their 14th victory in 15 games, holding the Blue Jays to 23 points in the second half on a 28% shooting percentage. Clayton shot his 40% of the total.
San Diego State had 38% shooting, but Nathan Mensah’s jumper gave the Aztecs a 56-54 lead with 1:37 remaining. remaining.
“I did it a thousand times all season, so it was just another shot for me,” the six-scoring Alop said of his go-ahead jumper. “Obviously there was more weight to it, but I didn’t think of it that way. I just thought, kept the rhythm, shot up, put the team forward.”
Clayton, who beat San Diego State in overtime in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, fell short of joining Big East rivals UConn in the Final Four.
Both teams didn’t seem to share their grief from last year’s meeting. They shared flights to and from Hawaii for his Invitational in Maui last fall, and there was no upset in a tight, physical game in which no team led by more than eight points against him.
Regional Honor Award
Trammell was part of an all-regional team that included Butler, Clayton’s Kalkbrenner, Shireman and Princeton’s Tasan Evomwan.
Before overtaking Clayton, San Diego State crafted a similar defensive masterpiece against the tournament’s overall seed, Alabama. Aztecs held Alabama and Clayton together to 5/44 (11.4%) from a 3-point range.
Karma faced his brother, Adam Seiko of San Diego State University. Their parents sat quietly for a few rows in the midcourt before joining Seiko for the celebration.
Creighton’s offense started well as the Blue Jays built a 33-28 lead at halftime and extended their advantage to seven in the second half. But Clayton didn’t make a single of his 3-pointers after halftime.
San Diego State once again proved that defense matters, especially as the Aztecs also contested for points. Their experience and depth showed as Mensah and Arop converted his last three baskets, averaging just 6.1 and 4.5 per game. They and Clayton each recorded his 37 rebounds, but his 13-9 dominance for the Aztecs proved significant offensively.