Playing in its first Elite Eight in more than 20 years, Wichita led by as much as 20 Saturday night and withstood a furious Ohio State comeback to defeat the Buckeyes 70-66 and clinch a spot in the national semifinals for the first time since 1965.
Aaron Craft & Co. have shown a penchant for hitting big shots in this tournament — beating both Iowa State and Arizona in the final seconds — but the magic ran out for the Buckeyes in Los Angeles.
The Shockers spent much of this tournament in a sort of limbo. While they have not been favorites by any means, they haven’t enjoyed the tournament darling status that other upstarts like Florida Gulf Coast and La Salle did. But while the Eagles and Explorers both bowed out in the Sweet 16, Wichita just kept on rolling.
The fact that Wichita State flew under the radar of most experts as a No. 9 seed entering the dance is understandable. The team’s resume is impressive at first glance — they climbed as high as No. 14 in the national polls after starting the year 19-2 — but the Shockers played just two tournament-bound teams all season (fellow mid-majors Creighton and VCU) and self-destructed down the stretch, dropping five of their final 13 games.
A team that lost three straight to Indiana State, Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois doesn’t exactly stand out as a potential giant-killer. But, as we’ve found out yet again this year, the tournament is a whole new race, and the Shockers are now just two games from the finish line.
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