San Diego State stuns Florida Atlantic with fanfare and rally for their first title game

Although seeds and history say it’s a shock here, both Florida Atlantic and San Diego State have proven they belong.

The Owls and Aztecs make their first Final Four appearances in a season that included other firsts. FAU, which plays in an arena with a capacity of less than 3,000, has never been seeded and has only made it to the NCAA Tournament once—a No. 15 seed in 2002. But they are 35-3 in 2022-23.

But Dusty May, in his fifth season, has set a winning record every year before the Owls have reached historic heights. FAU is 35-3 and reached No. 19 in the AP Poll in early February. The Owls swept both the C-USA regular season and tournament titles before earning a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament. From there, the close matches began (winning by margins of 1, 8, 7, 3). But all wins.

Offensively, the Owls are top 40 points per game (78) and are in the top 15 on three-pointers (9.6 per game). Johnell Davis leads with 13.9 points per game while adding 5.5 boards. Vladislav Golden scored 10.3 points and 6.6 rebounds on 62.7 percent shooting. On defense, FAU is in the top 20 in FG percentage, with opponents shooting just 40.2 percent.

On the other hand, San Diego State comes in at 31-6 after sweeping the Mountain West regular and conference tournament.

The Aztecs have a history of past success than FAU in March, as San Diego State reached the Sweet 16 in 2011 and 2014 and was 30-2 in the 2019-20 COVID-19 season.

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Brian Dutcher is in his fifth season as coach. Longtime assistant Steve Fisher has enjoyed the reputation of the Aztecs and maintain their reputation as a top defensive program. San Diego State holds opponents to barely 40 percent from the field—ranking 40th nationally—and 27.9 percent on three-pointers. That matches Houston’s as the second-best mark in the country, behind Tennessee’s 26.5.

Matt Bradley’s 12.5 points per game paces the Aztecs, with no one else averaging in double digits. But others stepped up all the time, from Darion Tramell’s 21 points against No. 1 Alabama in the Sweet 16 to Lamont Butler’s 18 points on 11 shots in the Elite Eight win against No. 6 Creighton.

“It’s very similar to competing with ourselves in practice,” FA coach May said Friday morning. “They’ve made four appearances in the NCAA Tournament. They’ve had four leading scorers. So it’s a lot like looking in the mirror and seeing yourselves. We never know who our leading scorer is going to be. But when you’re a leading scorer, you generate a lot of interest and help those other people achieve success.

“Again, it’s a testament to how selfless these guys are, and their sacrifice for the good of the team. So we’re ready for that because we see it every day. It’s like looking in a mirror.”

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