SDSU survives battle with UAB to advance in NCAA tournament, 69-65

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Aztecs held off a strong second half from UAB to keep their tournament alive.

With the best month of the year in college basketball officially underway, San Diego State found themselves in a duel with UAB to open up their tournament. The 12-seeded Blazers managed a ticket to the dance as a 12-seed after taking down Temple to bring home the AAC championship.

As for the Aztecs, they drew a spot as one of the 5-seeds following a loss to New Mexico in the Mountain West championship. The two squads geared up for battle in Spokane, Washington with their tournament hopes on the line. It was a strong first half for the Aztecs behind their bona fide number one option Jaedon LeDee, who scored early and often.

San Diego State was able to grab the early momentum and rolled into halftime as they held a 35-29 lead. The second half, however, was a different story initially. With LeDee having a quieter half to start, the Blazers made their run. A 17-5 surge helped them erase a 12-point Aztec cushion and give them a lead with less than 10 minutes to go. In the clutch, LeDee and the Aztecs managed to hit big-time free throws and survive as a late game-tying three from UAB would not fall. San Diego State escaped a hard-fought game with a 69-65 win and will square off against Yale in the round of 32.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

Both teams struggle from beyond the arch

Despite 38 combined three-point attempts between San Diego State and UAB, the majority of the scoring would end up coming from inside the arch. Both squads had rather tough shooting days from the three-point line, with the Aztecs shooting just 5-18 (27.8%). For the Blazers, their 7-20 performance helped them secure a slightly better mark of 35%. San Diego did manage to make up for it on the other areas of the court as they finished shooting 43.6% from the field in total. The vast majority of the offense ended up coming from the duo of Jaedon LeDee and Lamont Butler. The pair accounted for 47 of 69 points in the game for the Aztecs as they snuck by in dramatic fashion. It was an encouraging sign to see that despite the lack of success from beyond the arch, the squad found a way to get it done down the stretch. The upcoming battle against Yale will see a much more competitive defense than UAB, so the Aztecs will have their work cut out for them against a motivated Bulldogs team who just sent the 4-seeded Auburn Tigers packing for the season.

Jaedon LeDee makes SDSU history, lifts Aztecs to second round

It’s fair to say that things would have turned out much differently for the Aztecs on Friday if they did not have the services of Jaedon LeDee to rely on. The third-team AP All-American in his senior year brought his A-game early, determined to make his last NCAA tournament a long one. He was hot early, scoring 11 of the Aztecs’ first 13 points. LeDee would end up pouring in 18 first-half points as San Diego State headed into the break with a 6-point advantage and some solid momentum.

While it was a slower second half for him, he would come up clutch when it mattered. He scored 10 of his 14 second-half points within the final 6:30 of the game to hold off a UAB surge that had the San Diego State fans on the edge of their seats. In the final minute of the game, LeDee hit two pairs of clutch free throws that would ultimately be critical in sealing the deal. He finished the game with 32 points and 8 rebounds. The 32-point gem was the highest-scoring NCAA tournament game in the history of the Aztecs program.

They ended up needing every single bit of it, and hopefully, the LeDee magic will be in full force against Yale.

Lamont Butler fills the stat sheet in huge game

It quickly became clear in Friday’s game that Jaedon LeDee would be taking the role of Batman against UAB, but Lamont Butler stepped up as Robin in a big fashion. The senior was all over the place and made a lasting impact on both ends of the floor for the Aztecs.

Butler uses one of his 4 steals on the day to cash in with a dunk.

In 34 minutes of game-time, Butler tallied 15 points, 4 assists, 4 steals, and 3 rebounds. He led the way on the defensive end as San Diego State’s 11 steals was a season-high. Butler’s performance made him just the second player in program history to have at least 15 points, four assists, and four steals in a tournament game. After draining the game-winner against FAU last season that sent the Aztecs to the championship game, he and LeDee were clearly hungry for more. The duo was deep in their bags against the Blazers, and have officially put the rest of the tournament on notice as a duo to be reckoned with.

San Diego State will have little time to celebrate as they have a second-round matchup looming with the Yale Bulldogs on Sunday. They came into the tournament as a 13-seed but spent their Friday knocking off Auburn in one of the big stunners of the first round. The Bulldogs have certainly earned the respect of the Aztecs after taking out a Tigers squad that many predicted would be playing deep into the later rounds of the dance. It should be a great game between two teams who each have something to prove to the rest of the college basketball world with a ticket to the Sweet 16 on the line.