Kansas State Knocks Out Xavier in Double Overtime
SALT LAKE CITY -- Xavier coach Chris Mack might have gotten his fights wrong. But you got the point.
"It was like tonight was eerily similar to Ali-Foreman, and they landed the last punch, unfortunately,'' Mack said.
Mack might have meant Muhammad Ali against Joe Frazier in the epic 1975 "Thrilla in Manila,'' which Ali won in a grueling 14 rounds, rather than the 1974 Ali-George Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle,'' which Ali ended in eight rounds.
Nevertheless, this was some bout.
Second-seeded Kansas State defeated No. 6 Xavier 101-96 in double overtime Thursday night in an NCAA West Regional semifinal at EnergySolutions Arena. By the end, Kansas State definitely looked more Ali-like.
While the Musketeers were clearly tired, there was Wildcats guard Jacob Pullen running up the court to get to the foul line in the final minute of the second overtime. Considering Kansas State played a Cincinnati school, it also conjured up some memories of how Pete "Charlie Hustle'' Rose used to sprint to first base on a walk.
"[Kansas State coaches] put in our mind we have to be in the best shape possible for games like this,'' said Pullen, whose team advanced Saturday to play Butler for the right to go to the Final Four. "It was just one of those moments where, mentally, you know you're tired physically, but mentally you have to square your body and shoot the ball.''
Pullen did just that, scoring eight of his team-high 28 points in the second overtime, including a pair of 3-pointers. His second 3-pointer put the Wildcats up for good at 97-94 with 32 seconds remaining
By then, it looked as if the Musketeers were finally out of miracles. And finally out of breath.
"We were tired,'' Xavier guard Jordan Crawford said about the second overtime. "You know, fatigue caught up to us on defense. We broke down defensively. They got a couple wide-open shots.''
It was Crawford who scored a game-high 32 points and who had tied the score 87-87 on a 30-foot 3-pointer with six seconds left in the first overtime. And it was Crawford who scored Xavier's first six points in the second overtime, putting the Musketeers ahead 93-91 as the clock ticked under 1 1/2 minutes left.
But Pullen had more left in him, hitting his final two 3-point attempts while Crawford missed his final two from beyond the arc. So there will be no Xavier vs. Butler battle for the right to go to the Final Four, which some might have dubbed a Mid-Major Super Bowl.
Instead, it will be the Wildcats trying to make their first trip to the Final Four since 1964, which was two years before even their coach was born.
"That's March basketball at its finest,'' said Kansas State coach Frank Martin, who looked more worn out after the game than his energetic players. "That's two teams refusing to give in, refusing for their seasons to end.''
One play really added some extra years to Martin's life. In the waning seconds of regulation, with Kansas State holding a 72-69 lead, Martin wanted to foul the Musketeers.
Kansas State guard Denis Clemente, who added 25 points, tried to hack Xavier guard Terrell Holloway after he crossed the halfcourt stripe, but nothing was called. Then it was Kansas State's Chris Merriewether's turn, but he fouled Holloway when he threw up a three-point attempt with five seconds left. Holloway then calmly drained all three free throws to force the first overtime.
"Denis had that kid in a bear hug,'' Martin said. "They allowed him to play through that. The foul on the three-point shot was the correct call. Our guy fouled him. That's a breakdown on our part.''
Pullen claimed Holloway and Xavier forward Dante Jackson overheard Kansas State players in a huddle talking about the plan to foul, so they were ready to quickly throw up a three. Holloway, though, denied he said anything.
Maybe that's good. Such gamesmanship might have taken a bit away from this simply being a shootout. When each team crossed the halfcourt stripe, it was about time to let it fly.
The Musketeers shot 12 of 28 from 3-point range and the Wildcats 8 of 19. With Holloway scoring 26, Xavier's starting backcourt combined for 58 points to 53 for Kansas State's.
"It's a classic,'' Pullen said. "It was a shootout ... Percentages didn't really matter. Things that people usually do didn't really matter. When it comes down to it, the adrenaline is pumping... They made tough shots. We made tough shots. It was just two competitive teams going after it.''
Pullen, who had put the Wildcats up 72-69 with 10 seconds left in regulation with a pair of foul shots, called it an "emotional roller coaster.'' Pullen had a good look to win the game at the buzzer in regulation but his three-pointer clanged off the iron. Clemente had a very makeable runner bounce off the rim at the first-overtime buzzer.
In the end, though, Kansas State got in the last punch. Whichever fight it reminded anybody of, the Wildcats made like Ali at the end. While their opponent was winded, they were still doing the rope-a-dope.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson.