The La Salle Explorers had a fantastic run, but they will not join the 2011 Virginia Commonwealth Rams as teams who have gone from "First Four" to Final Four. The No. 13-seeded Explorers saw their NCAA tournament run end on Thursday, as they lost to the No. 9 seed Wichita State Shockers, 72-58, in Los Angeles.
Leading the way for the equally Cinderella-esque Shockers was guard Malcolm Armstead. Normally a pass-first threat who scores just 10.6 points per game for the season, Armstead ascended when his team needed him most. He scored 18 points on a solid 7-of-15 from the field, adding six rebounds and four assists to boot.
Armstead was joined by teammate Carl Hall, who scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds. The only Shockers star who did not perform well was leading scorer Cleanthony Early, who struggled to an eight-point, seven-rebound outing.
Though many considered this an even matchup in the pregame buildup, Wichita State made it clear from the opening tip it was the better-prepared team on Thursday. The Shockers stormed out to a 14-2 lead in the first 4:10 of the contest, sprinting up and down the floor in transition to lock down easy buckets.
Always around the basket, Hall found himself the recipient of plenty of early-game passes from teammates. He scored 10 of the team's first 14 points, knocking through a layup assisted by Armstead that capped off the run.
La Salle, as it had so many times previously, tried plugging its way back into the contest. The Explorers got as close as eight points after a Ramon Galloway three-pointer brought the score to 25-17, but it was to little avail.
John Giannini's squad quickly went cold after that Galloway shot, scoring just four points in the remaining 5:25 of the half. The Shockers used that time to pull their lead up to 38-22 heading into the halftime break.
The dominance did not stop once the teams got back on the court, either. Armstead and Ron Baker opened the half with back-to-back three-pointers, stretching the deficit to 22 points and causing Giannini to take a timeout.
Though La Salle scrapped its way back to respectability and got within 11 points midway through the half, Wichita State never allowed its lead to slip below double digits. The Shockers pounded the ball inside, with Armstead creating relentless dribble-drive opportunities, and the team's big men took advantage of 44 rebounds (15 offensive) to create second-chance buckets.
It was the type of wire-to-wire dominance so rarely seen in the NCAA tournament—especially in the Sweet 16. Wichita State will advance to take on Ohio State, who won its Sweet 16 matchup over Arizona on Thursday, and the Buckeyes will undoubtedly be nervous once they sit down in the film room.
Wichita State may be a mid-major, but this is not its first rodeo this deep into the tournament. SportsCenter's Twitter feed notes that the Shockers were last in the Elite Eight in 1981:
Shockers move on. 9 Wichita State beats La Salle, 72-58 to advance to Elite 8 for first time since 1981.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 29, 2013
Meanwhile, ESPN's Arash Markazi was not impressed with the entrainment value of this matchup:
A 9 and 13 seed have never met in the Sweet 16. This Wichita State-La Salle game is making me hope we never see another.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) March 29, 2013
CBS Sports' Jeff Borzello was more positive. He's already looking forward to Saturday's Elite Eight crash between Wichita State and Ohio State:
Got the late game on Saturday. Wichita State vs. Ohio State should be a good one. 7:05 p.m., CBS.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 29, 2013
It's safe to say Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated is looking forward to seeing Malcolm Armstead again:
Malcolm Armstead drinks green juice.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 29, 2013
Kevin Negandhi of ESPN had some encouraging words for La Salle:
Hold your head up high La Salle.— Kevin Negandhi (@KNegandhiESPN) March 29, 2013
In a contest where neither side was expected to get this far, it's true that the Explorers should be proud. Unfortunately, only one team could continue its Cinderella journey and Wichita State could not be denied.
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