HOUSTON (AP) — It was one of those Final Four buzzer-beaters no one will ever forget.
Oh, but how the FAU Owls wish they could.
The out-of-nowhere team’s first trip to college basketball’s biggest stage ended in excruciating fashion Saturday night, with San Diego State players almost running the Owls over as they flooded off the bench and swarmed the court to celebrate Lamont Butler’s jumper at the buzzer that gave the Aztecs a 72-71 victory.
The Owls made school history by getting here, only to walk off the court as part of history.
This was the first Final Four buzzer-beater in which the losing team was winning before the shot.
“I was in shock when the buzzer went off,” said FAU’s Nick Boyd.
Florida Atlantic’s players smiled and many danced on the bench during a second half in which it appeared they’d move within one win of a title no one could have seen coming.
Instead they ended up with a loss that nobody will ever forget.
“It was devastating,” Alijah Martin said of the shot.
Butler’s shot now goes into the March Madness annals, alongside Jalen Suggs’ long-range buzzer-beater for Gonzaga two years ago in the national semifinal, and even something that happened on this very floor the last time the Final Four was in Houston in 2016: Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beater to win the title for Villanova.
Both those teams were tied before the winning shot went in. FAU was ahead 71-70, making Butler’s game-winning buzzer-beater the first in Final Four history in which the winning team was trailing before the shot.
Which means FAU will be remembered alongside UCLA and North Carolina as victims of some of the most crushing last-second losses this tournament has seen. But this one might go down as the most heartbreaking of all.
“The hardest part is there’s no next … the sadness is just that we don’t get to do it again tomorrow,” FAU coach Dusty May said.
But May believes this team will be remembered for much more than Saturday’s devastating exit.
“These guys have created memories and a legacy for a lifetime,” he said. “People will be talking about this group for the next 50 to 100 years.”
FAU’s Jalen Gaffney recalled the shot just minutes after it fell to send his team home.
“He ended up shooting a tough 2, which we like so we’ll live with the result. … It’s just basketball, (expletive) happens sometimes. He made a good shot and we’ve got to live with it.”
For so long, it didn’t look like it would go that way.
Gaffney made a 3-pointer to put the Owls ahead 26-24 with 7:25 left in the first half. FAU didn’t trail again until the buzzer.
The Owls were up by 9 with 11 minutes to go after testing San Diego State’s vaunted defense like no one had in this tournament before the Aztecs started chipping away at the lead.
The Aztecs got within 2 for the first time with about 10 minutes to go and tied it with 4 1/2 minutes left.
Giancarlo Rosado put the Owls back on top with a fadeaway jumper seconds later, but they didn’t make another field goal until Martin’s layup made it 71-68 with 45 seconds left.
Jaedon LeDee hit a jumper to cut FAU’s lead to 1 with 36 seconds left.
Johnell Davis missed a layup with nine seconds left that would have padded the lead.
Nathan Mensah grabbed a rebound before Butler’s jumper swished through the net at the buzzer to end this Cinderella’s dream season.
But Boyd insisted this won’t be the last time these Owls get a chance to shine in the madness of March.
“You’re going to hear from FAU again,” he said. “You’re going to see us in the same position, and it’s going to be a different outcome, I promise you.”