March Madness: Wichita State, Syracuse Advance to Final Four

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w.stateThe Shockers of Wichita State continued their impressive run in NCAA Tournament Saturday night by defeating the Ohio State Buckeyes 70-66, punching their ticket to Atlanta for the Final Four.

They will join Syracuse in Atlanta, whose 2-3 zone proved to be too much for Marquette to penetrate, keying its 55-39 win. The Orangemen will await Sunday’s winner between Michigan and Florida.

The Shockers are making their first appearance in the Final Four since 1965. They are just the fifth team seeded ninth or higher to reach the Final Four since seeding began in 1979, but the second in three years following 11th-seeded VCU’s run in 2011.

“It’s crazy. I still can’t believe we’re here,” said Shockers’ guard Cleanthony Early, who scored 12 points. “You try to expect it, but you expect a lot of things that don’t happen. This really happened.”

Wichita State came into Saturday’s contest as the overwhelming underdog after beating top-ranked Gonzaga last week, but jumped out to a commanding lead against the Buckeyes in first half and led by 13 points at halftime.

“The way we shot coming into the Sweet 16, Elite Eight, everything was falling,” Buckeyes junior Deshaun Thomas said. “Today, it just wasn’t our night. Nothing was falling. We had great looks, some of them, but they just weren’t falling.”

The defense of the Shockers clamped down on Ohio State, which only shot 31.1 percent from the field, making 19 of their 61 attempts. Malcolm Armstead, who scored 14 points, limited Buckeyes’ point guard Aaron Craft to nine points on 2-for-12 shooting.

Shockers’ center Carl Hall attributed their lockdown defense to having a bunch of “fighters” on the team who have each others back no matter hard the challenge may be.

They showed their grit in the second half when Ohio State’s LaQuinton Ross scored eight consecutive points, which ignited a 23-6 run midway through the second half after the Shockers were up 53-33 with 12:09 to play. The closest the Buckeyes were able to cut the deficit was to 62-59.

“You’ve got to give them credit,” Craft said. “They really came out firing and we really didn’t regain our footing until it was too late.”

Wichita State will now head to Atlanta and await the winner of Sunday’s Midwest Regional between Duke and Louisville.

“We’re all new to this, but I think we’re ready for this,” Early said. “We’re going to prepare ourselves, and this game was pretty good preparation. We started at the bottom, and we’ve been working our way up.”

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