Wichita State shocks Ohio State to advance
Facing an Ohio State team seeking a second straight Final Four appearance and thrust back into the underdog role after a one-game foray into favor, coach Gregg Marshall and Wichita State were right back where they wanted to be on Saturday in Staples Center.
They were nowhere, anonymous, with all eyes on the Buckeyes.
Ninth-seeded Wichita State hounded No. 2 seed Ohio State from the opening tip and withstood a furious late rally to advance to its first Final Four since 1965 with a 70-66 win in the NCAA Tournament West Regional Final.
The Shockers will face Sunday's winner of the Midwest Regional between Duke and Louisville at the Final Four in Atlanta.
"I don't think we're Cinderella at all," Marshall said. "Cinderellas usually are done by this stage. If you get to this point, you can win the whole thing. You beat a No. 1 seed, a No. 2 seed -- I think Cinderella just found one glass slipper.
"I don't think she found four."
Shockers forward Cleanthony Early said, "I just feel like we've got the same potential as those guys. Whether they know us or not."
Wichita State dominated the Buckeyes early with a stifling defense and built a 35-22 lead at halftime. Midway through the second half, the lead increased to 20 as the underdog Shockers attacked the glass and penetrated into the post with regularity.
Ohio State lingered, trimming the lead possession by possession as they shifted to a full-court press with the game getting out of hand. Injuries to Early and Carl Hall forced the Shockers to go small and the Buckeyes cut the lead to three with 2:49 left, but Wichita State quickly stretched the lead back to six and became the lowest seed to advance to the Final Four since 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth in 2011.
"The way we shot the ball coming into the Elite Eight and Sweet 16 -- man, everything was falling," Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas said. "Just today wasn't our night. Nothing was falling."
Buckeyes point guard Aaron Craft said, "We didn't score in transition at all today, and that's been our calling card throughout this run -- getting stops and scoring in transition. We didn't score at all. We really didn't get very many easy buckets tonight and it showed."
Malcolm Armstead led Wichita State with 14 points and seven rebounds. Early and Fred Vanvleet added 12 points each for the Shockers, who broke the school record with their 30th win.
But it was the job the Wichita State defense did on the Ohio State backcourt that carried the Shockers into the next round.
Thomas had 23 points to pace Ohio State, but the Shockers stifled Craft and LaQuinton Ross for much of the game. Ross had 19 points, but 15 came during the Buckeyes' late run, and he finished just 4 of 12 from the field. Craft hit just 2 of 12 and finished with nine points and seven rebounds. and Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Shannon Scott combined to shoot 4 of 13.
"It's tough, it's crazy tough," Craft said. "It's very tough to grasp how important a possession is in the first half, and how that can come back to haunt you in the second. We had quite a few of those today, just plays that we don't usually make."
Armstead, who won regional most outstanding player honors said, "I knew if I was keeping (Craft) on his heels and attacking him -- and my teammates did the same -- he wouldn't be a problem. We wanted to eliminate a lot of his drives. We could live with a lot of his jump shots but still contest them at the same time."
Wichita State was not about to let the Buckeyes waltz back into the Final Four without a fight.
The Shockers built a 13-point halftime lead and held Ohio State to 24.2 percent shooting from the field, including 4 of 13 by Thomas.
Bolstered by the big lead and some bigger words from Armstead --- who calmed his team during Ohio State's run -- the not-so-Cinderella story continues.
"I understand they're shooting fireworks off in the city," Marshall said. "It's pretty special; it's been since (1965), 49 years. It's big for Wichita State, the city of Wichita and the Missouri Valley conference. To be able to go to the Final Four and represent all of us and try to win a championship -- who knows? -- but it's great."
NOTES: Wichita State and Ohio State met four times in history, but not since the Buckeyes' 78-60 win on Dec. 21, 1963. ... The Shockers have advanced to four Elite Eights; Ohio State has appeared 14 times. ... The Buckeyes fell to Kansas 64-62 in last year's Final Four, and the Jayhawks went on to lose the national championship to Kentucky. ... The Shockers entered the game with a 110-32 record during the last four seasons. ... Ohio State finished tied with Michigan State during the Big Ten regular season but went on to win the Big Ten tournament. ... The Buckeyes last lost at Wisconsin on Feb. 17. ... The Shockers returned just 42 of 165 starts from last season's team. ... Ohio State was 12-8 against NCAA Tournament teams this season.
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