ORLANDO, Fla. – San Diego State had little trouble ending the run of March Madness darling Furman, getting 16 points from Micah Parrish to pace a balanced scoring attack and pulling away for a 75-52 win on Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Darrion Trammell had 13 points, Lamont Butler added 12 and leading scorer Matt Bradley finished with 10 for San Diego State (29-6), which is heading to its first Sweet 16 since 2004.
The fifth-seeded Aztecs have won 11 of their past 13 games and will play top overall seed Alabama next week in the South Region semifinals in Louisville, Kentucky.
“You should play your best at the end of the season, and we’re playing our best basketball as the end of the season,” coach Brian Dutcher said.
“Obviously we hang our hat on defense. That’s the one thing that we do every game,” Dutcher added. “Then when we get the opportunity, we start making shots and play good offensively, then we’re very good.”
San Diego State is the first Mountain West Conference team to reach the Sweet 16 since Nevada in 2018. It’ll be the third regional semifinal appearance for the Aztecs and the seventh for the Mountain West overall.
Two days after shrugging off cold shooting and overcoming a 12-point, second-half deficit to shock No. 4 seed Virginia 68-67 on JP Pegues’ bracket-busting 3-pointer, Furman was outmuscled and gradually worn down by the much more physical Aztecs.
The Paladins feel they still showed they belong in March Madness.
“We wish we would have played better. Wish we would have shot the ball a little bit better. But some of that you have to give credit to (San Diego State). But there’s nothing that can take away what this group has done,” coach Bob Richey said.
“It’s an unbelievable story, and I couldn’t be more proud of our team, at a time where I’m extremely disappointed that we didn’t advance,” Richey added. “But it’s really hard to not pull the lens back a little bit and still see what that group was able to accomplish.”
San Diego State led 39-25 at the half, getting 14 points off the bench from Parrish and limiting Furman to one field goal over the final 11 minutes leading into the break.
The Aztecs took control during a 15-0 run that turned a two-point deficit into a 30-17 lead. Furman missed seven straight shots and turned the ball over four times during a 9:56 field goal drought that dumped the Paladins into the big halftime hole.
Southern Conference player and the year Jalen Slawson picked up his fourth foul with 16:27 remaining and fouled out shortly after returning midway through the second half. The super senior stomped the floor in frustration, drawing a technical foul that gave San Diego State a pair of free throws that put the Aztecs up 60-37.
Mike Bothwell led the 13th-seeded Paladins (28-8) with 15 points. Alex Williams had 11 and Pegues finished with 11 as Furman shot 32%, including 6 of 26 from 3-point range.
Like Slawson, Bothwell is a super senior who returned to Furman for a fifth season after the Paladins were denied the Southern Conference’s automatic NCAA Tournament berth by a buzzer-beater in their league championship game.
Making this year’s field, then getting Furman’s first win in the tournament in 49 years, created memories that’ll last a lifetime.
“It’s something no one can take away from this team,” Bothwell said. “Greatest team in the school’s history. No one has won more games than us, and we enjoyed it. That’s the best part about it.”
Furman: The Paladins lose Slawson and Bothwell, but feel they’ve set the tone for continued success.
“Sometimes what success can do is make you complacent, and I think the challenge going forward for us is to understand this has to make us hungrier,” Richey said. “This has to push us every day to want to get back here and continue to show that we belong in the NCAA Tournament.”
San Diego State: The Aztecs are 0-2 in Sweet 16 games. Dutcher feels this team is capable of going further.
“Now that we’ve settled into the rhythm, and we know what this is about, I think we’ll play better moving forward,” the coach said. “And that’s really encouraging moving into the Sweet 16.”