LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Wichita State earned its first berth in the Final Four since 1965 by upsetting Ohio State, 70-66, in the NCAA basketball tournament’s West Regional final, building a 20-point second-half lead and withstanding a fierce comeback attempt today at Staples Center.
The ninth-seeded Shockers (30-8) took advantage of the second-seeded Buckeyes’ poor first-half shooting to take a 35-22 halftime lead. Wichita State held 20-point leads three times in the second half, the last at 56-36 with 11 minutes, two seconds to play, before Ohio State (29-8) starting chipping away at the deficit with 9-0 and 7-0 runs.
The Buckeyes pulled within three, 62-59 with 2:48 left, but were unable to come any closer. Tekele Cotton made a 3-point basket on the ensuing possession and Wichita State led by at least four points and as many by eight for the remainder of the game.
“They blocked a lot of our shots, they were beasts on the boards,” Ohio State guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said after the Buckeyes’ hopes for a second consecutive Final Four appearance and 11-game winning streak ended.
“They sent four or five guys to the boards every time. From a standpoint of when it comes down to the end of the game, those defensive and offensive boards are so clutch.”
Carl Hall, a six-foot-eight senior forward, had six of the Shockers’ nine blocked shots. Wichita State out-rebounded the Buckeyes, 40-37, including a 27-17 advantage in the first half.
Guard Malcolm Armstead led four Wichita State players in double figures with 14 points. Freshman guard Fred Van Vleet came off the bench to score 12, 10 in the second half, while forward Cleanthony Early also had 12.
Forward Deshaun Thomas led all scorers with 23 and reserve guard LaQuinton Ross added 19 for Ohio State.
The Buckeyes made eight of 33 shots in the first half, 24.2 percent, and 19 of 61 overall, 31.1 percent.
“You can’t go eight for 33 in the first half against a great team,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “I’m giving Wichita State the credit. Man, they D’d us up.”
The Shockers made 22 of 59 shots, 37.3 percent, 11 of 31 in the first half, 35.5 percent, and 11 of 28 in the second, 39.3 percent.
Armstead was named as the regional’s most outstanding player. He is a transfer from Oregon who sat out last season to comply with NCAA transfer regulations, paying his own way to attend Wichita State because there were no scholarships available.
Also named to the All-West Region team were Hall, Ross, Thomas and guard Mark Lyons of Arizona, which lost to the Buckeyes, 73-70, in a regional semifinal Thursday.
Wichita State is the first Missouri Valley Conference team to advance to the Final Four since the Larry Bird-led Indiana State team in 1979. It will play the winner of Sunday’s Midwest Regional final between Duke and Louisville next Saturday at the Final Four.
President Barack Obama’s tournament predictions included the Buckeyes winning the West Regional and Shockers losing to eighth-seeded Pittsburgh in its first game.
Instead, Wichita State defeated the Panthers, 73-55, March 21 and upset top-seeded Gonzaga, 76-70, last Saturday.
“I don’t think we’re Cinderella at all,” Shockers coach Gregg 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 and a No. 2 seed. I think Cinderella just found one glass slipper. I don’t think she found four.” sh
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