Shockers hold off Buckeyes to reach Final Four
Los Angeles, CA (Sports Network) - Wichita State isn't shocking anyone anymore.
Withstanding an Ohio State stampede at the end, the unheralded and ninth- seeded Shockers are taking their stifling defense to Atlanta.
Malcolm Armstead had 14 points and seven rebounds and Wichita State downed the second-seeded Buckeyes, 70-66, in the West Regional final at the Staples Center.
It's the Shockers' first trip to the Final Four since the school's only previous appearance in 1965.
"It's a blessing, man. Everything we've gone through and everything we're doing, it's just a blessing paying off," Armstead said of making the Final Four.
Wichita State (30-8) saw a 20-point second half margin trimmed to three after Shannon Scott hit two free throws with 2:48 left, but Tekele Cotton's clutch 3-pointer at the other end upped the advantage back to six.
Fred Van Vleet got a kind roll on a short jumper in the paint with a minute left before Ron Baker hit a pair from the charity stripe to make it 69-61 with 51 ticks left and essentially seal the outcome.
The Shockers will play the winner of the Midwest Regional final between top- seed Louisville and second-seeded Duke in the Final Four next Saturday.
Wichita State became just the fifth team seeded ninth or higher to reach the Final Four since 1979 when seeding began -- No. 11 George Mason in 2006, No. 11 LSU in 1986, No. 9 Pennsylvania in 1979 and No. 11 VCU in 2011.
They join the likes of George Mason, Butler and VCU as the latest "small school" to make a run in the NCAA Tournament. The 11th-seeded Patriots made the Final Four in 2006, the Bulldogs got to back-to-back title games in 2010 and 2011 and VCU fell to Butler in the national semifinals in 2011.
The Shockers didn't even win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, but are representing the league in the Final Four for the first time since 1979 when Larry Bird led the Sycamores to the title game.
Cleanthony Early, who left during the second half with an apparent ankle injury but returned, tallied 12 points and seven boards, while Van Vleet added 12 points for Wichita State, which knocked off top-ranked and top-seeded Gonzaga last weekend.
"It's still a little sore, but I'm going to go back and ice and elevate and do all the things I need to do to get it better again," Early said of his ankle.
Deshaun Thomas missed three of his first 12 shots, but finished with 23 points for the Buckeyes (29-8), who came up a game shy of reaching their second straight Final Four.
LaQuinton Ross netted 15 of his 19 points in the second half, while Aaron Craft was limited to nine points on 2-of-12 shooting in defeat.
The Buckeyes came in shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc in the NCAA Tournament, but went just 5-of-25 from 3-point range on Saturday.
"Well, we didn't just let them shoot threes. We were trying to contest them. We were trying to-- there were certain guys we were going under on ball screens, others that we were chasing over the top. Ross and Thomas were certainly guys that we were trying to chase over the top of screens," Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall said.
Ohio State trailed 35-22 at the break after posting just a 24 percent clip from the floor and found itself down 56-36 after Van Vleet nailed a triple with 11:02 left.
"We weren't able in the first half to draw the line and get the stops, get the bucket when we needed, 24%, you're not going to win in the Elite Eight shooting 24% in the first half," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said.
The suddenly desperate Buckeyes quickly clawed back in it with a 9-0 spurt where they aggressively attacked the rim and drew fouls. Ross had a three- point play before Craft, Ross and Thomas all hit two free throws to get Ohio State within 56-45.
Van Vleet's three-point play with 7:03 to play pushed the spread back to 15 before the Buckeyes rallied again, this time with a 14-2 flurry against the rattled Shockers.
Wichita State committed six of its 12 total turnovers during Ohio State's flurry. Thomas netted six straight points at one point during the burst, which was capped on Scott's free throws to make it 62-59.
But Cotton's answer at the other end was a dagger and a little over a minute later, Van Vleet needed the entire rim to get his shot to drop.
"Proud of the way our guys came back, dug down. We put ourselves in a position to have a chance to win the basketball game," Matta said.
Earlier, Cotton and Demetric Williams nailed treys during an 8-0 Shockers flurry which helped them open up a 25-15 lead.
In the opening minutes of the second half, Carl Hall went back to the locker room after drawing a charge on Thomas. He held the back of his head after Thomas struck him with an elbow, but Hall returned just 1:06 later.
Ohio State, which was 2-of-10 from beyond the arc in the first half, finished the contest 5-of-25 from 3-point range ... Wichita State outrebounded the Buckeyes, 40-37.
03/31 00:06:58 ET