San Diego State avoids an early March Madness exit, holds off UAB 69-65 in first round

San Diego State avoids an early March Madness exit, holds off UAB 69-65 in first round

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Within the first 5 minutes, Jaedon LeDee scored at the rim, hit a midrange jumper, threw down a powerful dunk and knocked down a 3-pointer.

This was bound to be a big game for LeDee, and San Diego State needed everything the third-team AP All-American had to offer.

LeDee dominated inside on the way to 32 points, Lamont Butler added 15 and the Aztecs — last year's national runners-up — held off 12th-seeded UAB 69-65 on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“He’s hard to guard,” San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher said of his 6-foot-9, 240-pound forward. “He puts a lot of fouls on people. We find him and to his credit, he plays unselfishly. He moves the ball easily, but when his time comes, he was ready for it.”

Again seeded No. 5 after their march to last year's title game, the Aztecs saw a 12-point second-half lead disappear before putting together a late surge behind LeDee to avoid a March Madness surprise in the East Region.

“They don’t give out those All-American accolades just on a whim. You have to earn those,” UAB coach Andy Kennedy said of LeDee. “Tremendous player.”

Quiet for most of the second half, LeDee scored on three straight possessions for the Aztecs (25-10) after UAB took a 56-53 lead. Butler hit a difficult fallaway, and LeDee climbed for an offensive rebound and was fouled with 1:01 left. LeDee hit both free throws to give SDSU a 66-63 lead, and he added two more foul shots with 20 seconds left.

UAB’s Efrem Johnson had a contested look at a tying 3-pointer with 8 seconds left, but it rimmed off, and Reese Waters’ free throw with 3 seconds remaining allowed the Aztecs a chance to exhale.

LeDee made 11 of 18 shots, was 9 of 10 at the free throw line and had eight rebounds. He topped 30 points for the fourth time this season and finished two short of his career high.

“I just was playing hard. My teammates was finding me in the right spots at the right times,” LeDee said. “Shout out to UAB. They’re a really good team. I just was hitting shots today.”

San Diego State will play No. 13 seed Yale, which knocked off highly regarded Auburn, in the second round on Sunday.

Johnson led UAB (23-12) with 19 points, but was scoreless over the final nine minutes. The Blazers' leading scorer, Yaxel Lendeborg, got into early foul trouble trying to defend LeDee and finished with 11 points. He fouled out in the closing seconds.

“I tried to match LeDee’s physicality. As soon as I did, boom, foul, and it messed with my head all game,” Lendeborg said. “It took me a while to even start being aggressive again because I was scared of the charge call or anything with just messing up for my team any more than I already did.”

Eric Gaines added 14 points for the Blazers, who fell in the opening round for their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance. UAB lost two years ago to Houston in the first round, also as a No. 12 seed. This season, UAB joined the American Athletic Conference and unexpectedly won the league tournament.

UAB trailed 44-32 early in the second half before a 17-5 run gave the Blazers their first lead of the game and set up the tense closing minutes.

UP NEXT

For the second straight year, the Aztecs will face a No. 13 seed in the second round. Last year, the Aztecs beat 13th-seeded Furman after knocking off 12th-seeded Charleston.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness