Wichita State is headed to the Final Four, and these Shockers should be no surprise to anybody. Not after the way they held off mighty Ohio...
LOS ANGELES — Wichita State is headed to the Final Four, and these Shockers should be no surprise to anybody.
Not after the way they held off mighty Ohio State in the West Regional final.
Malcolm Armstead scored 14 points, Fred Van Vleet bounced in a big basket with one minute left and ninth-seeded Wichita State earned its first trip to the Final Four since 1965 with a 70-66 victory over the Buckeyes on Saturday.
Van Vleet scored 12 points as the Shockers (30-8) followed up last week’s win over top-ranked Gonzaga with a nail-biting victory over the second-seeded Buckeyes (29-8), whose 11-game winning streak ended one game short of their second straight Final Four.
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Wichita State is just the fifth team seeded ninth or higher to reach the Final Four since seeding began in 1979, but the second in three years after 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth’s run in 2011.
“Last year we were watching all this on television,” said Cleanthony Early, who scored 12 points. “Now I’m looking at a hat that says, ‘Final Four Atlanta’ with my team on it. It’s crazy. I still can’t believe we’re here. You try to expect it, but you expect a lot of things that don’t happen. This really happened.”
Wichita State roared to a 20-point lead with 11 minutes to play after Ohio State played an awful first half, but LaQuinton Ross scored 15 of his 19 points after halftime, leading a ferocious rally that got the Buckeyes within three points in the final minutes.
But after Tekele Cotton hit a three-pointer with 2:20 left, VanVleet scored on a shot that bounced all over the rim before dropping. Ron Baker and Cotton hit late free throws to secure the second Final Four trip in Wichita State’s history.
The Shockers are also the kings of Kansas, reaching the national semifinals after the Jayhawks and Kansas State both went down.
“We’re happy, but I’m still shocked,” said Carl Hall, the glasses-wearing big man who scored eight points and led the Shockers’ strong defensive effort. “We’ve got a team full of fighters. I brought them all together near the end and said, ‘No matter what happens, I love y’all.’ We had to fight so hard. We’ve got each other’s backs, and it’s hard to beat a team that’s got five guys who work together like us.”
Deshaun Thomas scored 21 points after missing nine of his first 12 shots for Ohio State, which made just 24 percent of its first-half shots. Aaron Craft scored nine points on 2-for-12 shooting for the Buckeyes, who dug a hole too deep to escape.
“The way we shot coming into the Sweet 16, Elite Eight, everything was falling,” Thomas said. “Today, it just wasn’t our night. Nothing was falling.”
Wichita State is the first Missouri Valley Conference team in the Final Four since Larry Bird led Indiana State to the title game in 1979.