Momentum is an extraordinarily difficult thing to combat, but Wichita State weathered a furious second-half rally from the Buckeyes to secure the program’s second-ever trip to the Final Four with Saturday’s 70-66 win.
Down 53-33 with just 12 minutes remaining in their season, Buckeyes forward LaQuinton Ross scored eight of Ohio State’s next 10 points. From there, the Buckeyes locked down on defense, hustled to loose balls, forced turnovers and hit timely free throws, and at one point cut the deficit to three.
Deshaun Thomas came alive with 10 points over the final 7:41, but in the end, the Shockers cemented a historic upset and booked a trip to Atlanta.
With the win, the Shockers became just the second No. 9 seed (Pennsylvania, 1979) to ever advance to the Final Four.
Wichita State did it the way it's done it throughout the entire tournament, using physical interior defense, team rebounding and superior three-point shooting. The Shockers also endured two scary injuries to their two leading scorers—an elbow to Carl Hall’s chin and a twisted ankle from Cleanthony Early—en route to securing the victory. Both eventually returned to the game.
Hall, who missed parts of the game due to the elbow, finished with just eight points and four rebounds, but it was his six blocks which kept Ohio State from intruding in the paint. Ron Baker helped secure the victory with numerous clutch free throws down the stretch, as the freshman hit all nine of his attempts. Deshaun Thomas struggled in the first half, but he finished 8-of-20 for 23 points. He was 0-of-6 from beyond the arc.
As I said in the preview, Ohio State’s big men were nonexistent. Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel combined for five rebounds and zero points as the Shockers’ size took over. The lane was wide open for guards Fred Van Vleet (12 points) and Malcolm Armstead (14 points) to drive and finish with little resistance. That dribble capability opened up looks from the perimeter, where the Shockers knocked down 8-of-20 threes.
The Shockers will play Louisville next Saturday at the Georgia Dome. Having survived the Buckeyes defense, Wichita State will certainly test the top-seeded Cards. But Louisville likely has too much individual firepower for Hall and his mates to handle.