Kansas State and Xavier essentially went shot for shot in the latter stages of regulation and the first overtime, with the backcourt tandems of Jacob Pullen/Denis Clemente and Jordan Crawford/Terrell Holloway being the main characters. But in the second overtime Pullen and company had a few more shots left in the tank, surviving by the final score of 101-96 to advance to the Elite 8. Pullen, who scored ten points in the extra sessions, finished with a team-best 28 points while Clemente added 25 points and five assists. Crawford, who hit a shot from nearly 30 feet out to force a second overtime, led all scorers with 32 points. A good game throughout became a great one, beginning with the end of regulation.
The age-old argument of whether or not you should foul when leading by three in the final seconds was given yet another variable: how do you take into account the officials? Under instructions to give the foul as Terrell Holloway crossed half-court, Clemente did just that in wrapping his hands around Holloway's waist. Only one problem: the official closest to the play didn't call the foul, allowing Holloway to get further down the sideline in front of the Xavier bench. At this point the Wildcats would have been best served to simply challenge the shot. Instead, Chris Merrieweather fouled the point guard in the act of shooting.
"Every time we've been in that situation at Kansas State with me as head coach, we've done the same thing," said head coach Frank Martin. "Denis had the kid in a bear hug at the line. They allowed him to play through that. The foul on the three-point shot was the correct call. Our guy fouled him. That's a breakdown on our part."
With five seconds left in the game, Holloway stepped to the line with nerves of steel and knocked down all three; none so much as hit the rim. When Pullen's jumper from the right elbow missed and Jason Love (11 points, 15 rebounds) grabbed the rebound, the game went into overtime tied at 72. It's highly unlikely that anyone watching expected the two teams to score a combined fifty-three points in the extra ten minutes.
Holloway and Crawford both hit game-tying three pointers in the final minute of the first overtime, with Kansas State taking a three point lead (87-84) following a Pullen layup and Merrieweather free throw. This set the stage for a shot that no one inside of EnergySolutions Arena could believe with their own eyes given how far away from the basket the Detroit native was when he rose up.
"As you make a couple of them shots, you do kind of think that it's meant to be," said Crawford. "When Danté hit the step-back three in the corner, I thought it was meant to be. Unfortunately it didn't happen that way. I think times like that, you got to make big shots."
Did anyone think that we'd have an Instant Classic on our hands when Kansas State raced out to a 19-4 lead? Unlikely maybe but by no means unfathomable, especially if you knew the fighting spirit of the Musketeers. For the game Chris Mack's squad out-rebounded the Wildcats 51-40, yet despite turning the ball over sixteen times the Musketeers gave themselves plenty of opportunities to move on to their second Elite 8 in three years. They simply ran out of gas at the end and Kansas State will play in their first Elite 8 since 1988, taking on Butler Saturday afternoon.
The Bulldogs knocked off the top seed in the West Region, Syracuse, 63-59 behind a combined 31 points from Gordon Hayward (17 points, five rebounds) and Shelvin Mack (14 points, six rebounds and five assists) and another thirteen from Willie Veasley. Both teams got off to slow starts but it was Butler who came to first, eventually leading 12-1 with 13:15 left in the first half before the Orange made a field goal. Despite their eventual second half run to take the lead, this beginning was a microcosm of how things would go for Syracuse.
One field goal to six turnovers in the first seven minutes, and at the end of the game Syracuse had eighteen turnovers to the Bulldogs' seven. And for the game Butler outscored Syracuse 23-11 in points off of turnovers; you going to struggle against many teams much less one as sound as Brad Stevens' squad that's now won 23 straight. The Orange were out of character for a team that went into Thursday's game with thirty wins, and as a result they head home earlier than many expected.
"So many of the turnovers, we made really bad decisions with the ball," said head coach Jim Boeheim. "Really just bad decisions, bad passes. You have to give the defensive team credit in situations certainly with some turnovers. But I'm really at a loss. We haven't done that. A couple games throughout the whole year maybe where we've turned it over, but not like that. Just hasn't been our team. We haven't done that." All it takes is one off night to punch your ticket home, but as Coach Boeheim said some credit needs to be given to the Butler defense as well.
SYRACUSE: Kentucky and West Virginia take care of business.
Much of the nation hoped that the three-time Ivy League champion Cornell Big Red would figure out a way to knock off Kentucky in the second regional semifinal of the night, but the odds against that were also acknowledged. The Wildcats had too much size and "NBA talent" for Steve Donahue's team regardless of their impressive victories over Temple and Wisconsin. And that edge was on display after an early Cornell run with the Wildcats closing the half on a 30-6 run that established control of the contest for the SEC champs. Kentucky shot 50% in the first half while the Big Red shot 38.9%.
"I think obviously there were some pretty open ones out there where I had a lot of space to get it off," said Ryan Wittman. "Sometimes you just have games like that where they don't go down. But they've got a lot of length on defense, obviously. Something we had to get a little bit adjusted to. I don't think Temple and Wisconsin quite had the length on the perimeter that they do." Louis Dale led all scorers with seventeen points while Wittman added ten; the inability to hit shots from the perimeter short-circuited Cornell's chances of pulling off the upset.
Cornell made five of twenty-one from beyond the arc but they weren't much better inside of it either, making eleven of twenty-seven two-point shots. Kentucky's size and length are traits that few teams left in the Tournament can match, and if they take care of the basketball they'll be a tough out to say the least. Cornell turned the ball over fifteen times Thursday night to thirteen for the Wildcats, and a few of those turnovers were of the live-ball variety, allowing for run-outs which led to easy baskets. DeMarcus Cousins led Kentucky with 16 points while Eric Bledsoe added 12. Next up for John Calipari's young team is West Virginia, who pulled away in the second half to defeat Washington 69-56.
Kevin Jones led all scorers with 18 points to go with eight rebounds while Da'Sean Butler (14 points, seven rebounds) and Devin Ebanks (12 points, seven rebounds) also finished in double figures. But in what was a sloppy game for both teams the Mountaineers turned the ball over 23 times; they got away with it because the Huskies forked it over 21 times themselves while also failing to turn WVU's turnovers into points. Justin Holiday led Washington with 14 points while Isaiah Thomas added 13. In the second half the Mountaineers did a better job of hitting the offensive boards as well as keeping the tempo in their favor.
For the game the Mountaineers grabbed 23 offensive rebounds and outscored the Huskies 27-0 in second chance points. "He [Coach Huggins] teaches to us play physical and aggressive style of basketball," said Jones. "We're always taught to crash the glass no matter what. I think we're going to do that, and if we keep on crashing the glass like we're supposed to and keep on playing defense we'll be fine." West Virginia's defense also played a role in the second half, as the cumulative effect of Thomas being guarded by Ebanks combined with the switch to their 1-3-1 thorougly frustrated the Pac-10 Tournament champs.
Washington shot just 31% from the field in the second half as they were unable to speed up the game and get out in the open floor. "Because we were down I guess just us being antsy and wanting to get the lead back, we didn't really take our time to move the ball," said Holiday. This is what the Mountaineers will need to do against Kentucky on Saturday, although there will be a noticeable difference in regards to Kentucky's size comparative to Washington's. And they'll also need to take much better care of the basketball; with this being their first post-Truck Bryant foot injury it can be somewhat understood that they'd have ball-control issues. It's the one region that's given us "chalk" in the regional final, which should make for a good matchup.
Game of the Night: Kansas State 101, Xavier 96 (2OT)
G Jordan Crawford (Xavier) 32 points in the Musketeers' double overtime loss to Kansas State.
G Jacob Pullen (Kansas State) 28 points, four rebounds and three assists in the Wildcat's double overtime win over Xavier.
F Curtis Kelly (Kansas State) 21 points, eight rebounds, five blocks and four assists.