San Diego State upsets No. 1-overall seed Alabama to reach March Madness Elite Eight

San Diego State upsets No. 1-overall seed Alabama to reach March Madness Elite Eight

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — This was not a big surprise. 

Not to Alabama. The Crimson Tide, despite their first-ever No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, knew they were in for a rock fight. 

And certainly not to San Diego State. The Aztecs, before the game Friday, openly scoffed at the notion that they were underdogs against the mighty Tide. 

By game’s end in the Sweet 16 showdown between contrasting styles at the KFC Yum! Center, fifth-seeded San Diego State, led by a game-high 21 points from Darrion Trammel, had taken down Alabama, 71-64, in the South Region. 

San Diego State (30-6) advanced to an Elite Eight matchup on Sunday against the winner of the late game Friday between Creighton and Princeton. 

The win was the Aztecs’ 13th in their past 14 games and it took a spectacular second-half surge after it appeared Alabama had taken control of the game. 

Alabama (31-6) led 48-39 with 11:35 remaining before San Diego State went on a furious 23-5 run to take a 62-53 lead with 3:44 remaining and seize the biggest win in school history. 

Brandon Miller is swarmed by San Diego State defenders.
Brandon Miller is swarmed by San Diego State defenders. Getty Images

“We’re not a one-hit wonder,” San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher said before the game. “We have a program. We have a culture. I don’t care what game we go into. We don’t consider ourselves an underdog. We just look at the next opponent. We’re not embracing the underdog role. We’re just trying to embrace San Diego State basketball and be the best version of us. We never look at ours as an underdog. We think we have a really good program.” 

San Diego State was driven by a standout performance from its point guard, Trammell, whose baskets were the biggest of the game, coming at the most critical moments. 

The Aztecs, who pride themselves on their defense, held Alabama freshman star Brandon Miller in check. He entered the game averaging 19.1 points, but scored only nine points on 3-for-19 shooting and an atrocious 1-for-11 from 3-point range. 

After a sluggish first half — particularly from Miller — Alabama trailed 28-23, but came out early in the second half with more energy. Miller, held to just four points in the first half, started things off with a 3-pointer. 

Keshad Johnson dunks during the second half.
Keshad Johnson dunks during the second half.Getty Images

Alabama big man Charles Bediako, who was silent in the first half, scored six points in a span of two minutes to turn the five-point halftime deficit into a 36-32 lead, capping an 13-5 run. 

The Tide kept pouring it on, surging to that 48-39 lead with 11:35 remaining when Nick Pringle dunked a Miller feed, forcing a San Diego State timeout. At that point, the Tide had outscored the Aztecs 26-11 in the second half. 

Then everything changed, thanks to Trammell. 

San Diego State came out of that timeout and got right back into the game, thanks to a Trammell 3-pointer. Trammell followed that with a steal and layup, and suddenly Alabama led by just 48-44 with 10:47 remaining in the game. 

A Trammell 3-pointer with 9:30 remaining cut the Alabama lead to 48-47, then one of two free throws from Nathan Mensah and a 3-pointer from Micah Parrish gave the Aztecs a 51-48 lead and capped a 12-0 run. 

Alabama coach Nate Oats reacts during the first half.
Alabama coach Nate Oats reacts during the first half. Getty Images

San Diego State never trailed again. 

The pace of the game, particularly early, could not have gone any better for the Aztecs, who had no interest in getting into a track meet with deeper, more athletic Crimson Tide. San Diego State controlled the pace of the game masterfully in the first half, frustrating Alabama, which loves to run, run, run. 

The Aztecs entered the game ranked 261st in the nation with slightly more than 68 offensive possessions per game. Alabama entered the game ranked sixth in the country with more than 76 possessions per game. 

“We would like to run selectively,” Dutcher said before the game. “If we get a break, we’re going to run. We’re not going to pull the ball out and slow the game down. But at the same time, we have to convert defensively. We to build walls and try not to let them get up and down the floor on us. 

Noah Clowney reacts during the first half.
Noah Clowney reacts during the first half. Getty Images

“I don’t think we’ll try to play a Gonzaga game where it’s 100-90 final score. We play good defense. We’ll try to control the tempo. If we can turn it into a half-court game — and this is no matter who we play, Mountain West games, whatever — you know, I like our chances in a half-court game.” 

When Miller had difficulty getting on track in the first half, a big issue was picking up two fouls in the first 5:10 of the game. That forced Alabama coach Nate Oats to sit Miller more than he had planned to. Miller played just 10:52 in the first half, shooting just 2-for-9 from the field and 0-for-3 from 3-point range. 

Alabama, meanwhile, was flummoxed by the San Diego State defense, shooting a miserable 8-for-29 in the first half, including just 1-for-11 from 3-point range. 

The Aztecs were coming off two superior defensive performances in the NCAA Tournament. They held high-scoring Charleston to just 57 points on 32-percent shooting in the first round and then limited Furman to just 52 points on 32-percent shooting in the second round.