Men’s Basketball: Buzzer beater ends Owls’ run in the Final Four

On Saturday, FAU fell 72-71 to the San Diego State Aztecs in the Final Four ending their season and historic run through the NCAA Tournament.


Nicholas Windfelder

Sophomore guard Alijah Martin celebrates hitting a three-pointer against San Diego State on April 1, 2023.

Cameron Priester, Sports Editor

HOUSTON – The past season for FAU men’s basketball (35-4, 18-2 C-USA) was something out of a story book.

What started in the Owls’ 2,900-person arena, with them being projected to finish fifth in the conference, 35 wins later eventually led them to the Final Four on Saturday night in front of a crowd of 73,680. 

But no matter how triumphant or tragic, every story must come to an end—and as San Diego State’s junior guard Lamont Butler laced a jump shot as time expired Saturday night, so did FAU’s.

Butler’s buzzer-beater completed the 14-point second half comeback for the San Diego State University Aztecs (32-6, 15-3 MWC), knocking off the Owls 72-71 in the national semifinal at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. 

Head coach Dusty May is not an emotional person—his laser focus often masquerades as a lack of emotion. However, even after watching their season ending in the most gut-wrenching way possible, May and his players emitted an aura of optimism rather than heartbreak.

“We’ll be back,” said sophomore guards Nicholas Boyd and Alijah Martin in unison as they departed from the postgame press conference. As he sat on the podium alone to face questions about probably the toughest loss of his young, burgeoning career, May’s answers rang the same sentiment. 

We’re so obsessed with the next thing,” said May. “The only sadness is just that we don’t get to do it again tomorrow. The NCAA makes us take a couple of weeks off to regroup, and we’ll get back to work again.” 

Before the agonizing finish, the Owls looked poised to take the next step in a historic run through the NCAA Tournament. 

The Aztecs took an early lead thanks to a 14-0 scoring run in the five minutes after tipoff, but FAU battled back and retook the lead. Sophomore guard Johnell Davis sank a pair of free throws with 10:34 in the first half putting the Owls back ahead, and after a productive offensive performance in the first half, they went into halftime up 40-33. 

In the first half, FAU shot 53.6% from the floor and 42.9% from beyond the arc, and it briefly appeared that their efficient first half shooting would roll over past halftime. 

With 13:58 in regulation, Martin drew a foul and made both free throws, making it a 13-4 run by the Owls that left them with their largest lead of the night at 14 points. But shortly thereafter, the tide began to change.

“They went on a run,” said Martin. “That was really the turning point of the game.”

What once felt like the Owls’ game to lose, quickly turned into a dogfight as the Aztecs began to take control of the glass, knocking the lead down to a single point with just over two minutes to play. 

Back-and-forth action in the final minutes of regulation left the Owls ahead by one, ball-in-hand, with nine seconds to play. 

Despite tallying just eight points total, May drew up the Owls’ final play for sophomore guard Johnell Davis, who’d led the Owls in scoring through the tournament with 17.3 points per game. After Davis missed his layup attempt with five seconds on the clock, SDSU grabbed the rebound and pushed it to the other end of the floor, setting up Butler’s game-winner that ended FAU’s season. 

“I was in shock when the buzzer went off,” said Boyd. “But, I mean, it’s the game of basketball. We had our fun when we did that at Memphis. And it just didn’t go our way this night.”

The last second thriller will now advance the Aztecs to their first national championship in program history on Monday night. There they’ll face the University of Connecticut Huskies, who will be coming off of a 72-59 routing of the University of Miami Hurricanes Saturday night in the Final Four.

As for the Owls, they’ll now enter into an offseason that could see the return of many of the contributors to their unprecedented run through the tournament.

In addition to Martin and Boyd claiming that themselves, and much of the roster, will be back next season, it was reported Thursday that May will sign a multiyear contract extension at FAU worth north of $1 million annually. 

With May, and presumably the core of the roster, set to return, the Owls now begin the process of getting back right to where they were Saturday night; and according to them, that process will begin sooner rather than later.

“We’re just ready to get better, keep working,” said Boyd. “We’ve got a group of guys that are coming back, hungry, determined, and the sky’s the limit for us.”

Cameron Priester is the Sports Editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @PriesterCameron