March 22, 2013

La Salle 63, No. 12 Kansas St. 61

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - La Salle wouldn't let a stellar first half go to waste.

Jerrell Wright made three foul shots in the final 30 seconds, and the No. 13 seed Explorers survived after blowing an 18-point halftime advantage to beat fourth-seeded Kansas State 63-61 on Friday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Wright, who scored a game-high 21 points for the Explorers (22-9), made the first two free throws to give La Salle a 62-61 lead. Kansas State's Jordan Henriquez missed in the paint at the other end, and Wright made the first of two more foul shots with 9.6 seconds to go.

The Wildcats (27-8) raced down court, looking for a tying basket, but point guard Angel Rodriguez got hung up in the corner near the Kansas State bench. His off-balance shot over the corner of the backboard missed everything, and the Explorers jumped off their bench to celebrate.

Ramon Galloway scored 15 of his 19 points in the first half, and Sam Mills added 10 points for La Salle, which beat Boise State in one of the First Four games just to reach Kansas City, and now has won two games in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1955.

The Explorers will play 12th-seeded Mississippi, which knocked off No. 5 Wisconsin 57-46 earlier in the day, for a spot in the round of 16 in a suddenly shredded West Region.

Henriquez and Shane Southwell scored 17 points each for Kansas State, which trailed 44-26 at the break but managed to claw back into the game with some scrappy defense.

La Salle was just 3 for 18 from the field in the second half.

It turned out to be just enough.

Explorers coach John Giannini was worried his team would be weary after beating Boise State two days ago, so his guys hardly practiced Thursday. They made up for it by putting up extra shots before the game, when Kansas State headed to the locker room for final instructions.

Evidently, the Explorers got into quite the rhythm.

Galloway hit the first of his three first-half 3-pointers on La Salle's opening possession, and he was followed in quick succession by Mills and Tyreek Duren, whose own shots from beyond the arc effectively silenced a partisan crowd that came dressed mostly in purple and white.

Kansas State coach Bruce Weber kept calling timeouts to implore his team to settle down, but nothing seemed to stick. During one break, with the Explorers already leading 21-9, the first-year coach clapped his hands and told his team as it arrived at the bench, "We're fine!"

The Explorers pushed their lead to 35-16 late in the first half, and even when the Wildcats made back-to-back baskets - and their subdued fans started to stir - La Salle's veteran backcourt was there to answer with a slicing layup or a fall-away jumper.

La Salle shot 58 percent and committed two turnovers in building a 44-26 halftime lead, while the Wildcats went 1 for 8 from beyond the arc and turned it over seven times.

Everything turned in the second half.

Those open 3-pointers the Explorers had been pouring in were replaced with brick shots and air balls, their weary legs starting to show. And those lousy passes and missed layups by Kansas State were replaced with crisp feeds for open looks around the basket.

Henriquez, the Wildcats' 7-footer, started to take advantage of a six-inch advantage in the paint, scoring six points during their 20-5 run to open the half. When he checked out, bruising post player Thomas Gipson kept the pressure on, demoralizing the smaller Explorers.

Gipson's basket in the paint drew Kansas State within 56-55, and then a put-back by McGruder gave the Wildcats their first lead of the game with 7:10 remaining.

Wright's two foul shots with just over 4 minutes left in the game knotted it 60-all, and Henriquez's free throw with 2:25 remaining gave Kansas State the lead. But McGruder missed a closely guarded jumper on the Wildcats' next trip, and then rattled out a 3-pointer.

The misfires gave the Explorers the opening they needed to finish off a memorable upset.


Temple 76, NC State 72

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) - Khalif Wyatt grabbed his left thumb - the one alarmingly wrapped in black support tape - pulled it toward his stomach and grimaced.

His non-shooting hand dangled uselessly as he set up behind the free-throw line. He carefully placed it on the bottom of the ball, cautiously dribbled a couple times, then put both hands on it and let it fly.

Painful, but perfect.

Then, he did it five more times.

Wyatt scored 31 points and made six decisive free throws in the final 32 seconds Friday, leading Temple to a 76-72 victory over North Carolina State in the second round of the East Regional.

No one-and-done for Temple this time. The Owls' best player wouldn't have it.

"He's as tough a competitor as I've had an opportunity to coach," Temple's Fran Dunphy said. "He wants the moment."

The ninth-seeded Owls (24-9) will face winner of the Indiana-LIU Brooklyn game Sunday, which represents a breakthrough for Temple all by itself.

The Owls are trying to shed their reputation as an easy-out team. They'd made the tournament each of the last five years, losing their opening game all but once. They haven't been to the round of 16 since 2001, when they reached the regional final.

They were having one of their best games of the season, holding a 17-point lead, before Wyatt got hurt, giving them a huge fright. The Atlantic 10's player of the year and top scorer got his thumb caught in a defender's jersey and had it twisted backward.

He took himself out of the game - a sign something was badly wrong - got it taped and returned to finish the win off.

How bad was it?

"It's sore," he said, then realized that didn't fully capture the depth of the discomfort.

"It's sore," he added. "It's sore."

Every shot was an adventure, but he made enough to keep Temple around for more than one game. He hit his last two free throws with 2.2 seconds to go, finishing 12 of 14 from the line overall.

"They trusted me to make the two shots at the end," Wyatt said. "Some of the N.C. State guys were talking a little bit, but you've just got to block it out."

Wyatt broke Temple's single-season free-throw record and finished with the most points by an Owl in the NCAA tournament since 1991.

"We've played against really good guards this year," N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. "Khalif Wyatt is as good or better than all of them."

No. 8 NC State (24-11) trailed most of the game, but cut it to 74-72 on Lorenzo Brown's jumper with 2 seconds left. Wyatt was fouled on the inbounds play and finished it off.

The Wolfpack went to the round of 16 last season and yearned for a deep tournament run in a year dedicated to their most famous finish. Richard Howell had 14 points and 15 rebounds for N.C. State, which couldn't fully take advantage of its advantage inside.

The Wolfpack are commemorating the 30-year anniversary of their national title under coach Jim Valvano. That's when Lorenzo Charles grabbed Dereck Whittenburg's off-target shot and slammed it home at the buzzer for a 54-52 win over Houston, sending Valvano on his joyous ramble around the court.

Wyatt cut off any hopes of a last-second win this time.

"He's really crafty," N.C. State's Scott Brown said. "He was able to draw the foul and get to the line. Anytime you shoot 14 free throws in a game, that's going to help you. He's a good player, and that's what makes them go."

The Owls were overshadowed on the front line, where N.C. State had the 6-foot-8 Howell, the ACC's leading rebounder. Temple's top inside threat, Anthony Lee, was limited in practice this week after getting tested for a concussion following the Atlantic 10 tournament.

Lee was replaced in the starting lineup Friday by 6-foot-9 Jake O'Brien, making his seventh start. O'Brien, who likes to shoot the 3, played the leading role in Temple's fast start. He finished with 18 points.

Still, the onus was on the 6-foot-4 Wyatt, who averages 19.8 points. Wyatt had three driving baskets - two of them off steals - and O'Brien hit a 3 for a 33-18 lead with 6:38 left in the half.

O'Brien hit yet another 3 with 18 seconds left for a 38-22 lead at halftime. C.J. Leslie and the rest of the Wolfpack walked off the court stunned, the shock showing in their listless stride and blank faces.

Wyatt has a knack for wriggling free in the lane and drawing fouls, but his long-range shot has been off. He missed 12 straight during a loss to Massachusetts during the A-10 tournament and was only 4 of 23 behind the arc in his last three games.

Wyatt still struggled from outside - only 1 of 7 behind the arc - but compensated by driving inside for baskets over taller defenders.

After Wyatt hurt his hand in the second half, N.C. State started its best spurt of the game, getting the ball inside four times for baskets - two each by Howell and Brown - that cut it to 47-39 with 13:08 to go.

The Owls managed to maintain their cushion until the closing minutes. Wood, the ACC's top 3-point shooter, missed his first four shots but hit back-to-back 3s that cut it to 63-60 with 3:08 left.

He missed another 3 with 1:11 to go, and Wyatt finished it off with those free throws.