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Wichita State upsets Ohio State, 70-66, for Final Four trip

  • Syracuse forward James Southerland (43) lands on Marquette guard Junior Cadougan (5) as Syracuse center Baye Keita (12) looks for the rebound during the second half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

    Syracuse forward James Southerland (43) lands on Marquette guard Junior Cadougan (5) as Syracuse center Baye Keita (12) looks for the rebound during the second half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • Syracuse forward C.J. Fair (5) falls on Marquette guard Junior Cadougan (5) during the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

    Syracuse forward C.J. Fair (5) falls on Marquette guard Junior Cadougan (5) during the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • Syracuse forward C.J. Fair (5) cuts down the net following their 55-39 win over Marquette in the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

    Syracuse forward C.J. Fair (5) cuts down the net following their 55-39 win over Marquette in the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • Marquette forward Steve Taylor Jr., (25) and Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams (1) reach for a loose ball during the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

    Marquette forward Steve Taylor Jr., (25) and Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams (1) reach for a loose ball during the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • Syracuse guard Brandon Triche (20) heads towards the basket as Marquette guard Vander Blue (13) watches during the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

    Syracuse guard Brandon Triche (20) heads towards the basket as Marquette guard Vander Blue (13) watches during the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

  • Marquette guard Trent Lockett (22) passes the ball away from Syracuse center Baye Keita (12) during the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

    Marquette guard Trent Lockett (22) passes the ball away from Syracuse center Baye Keita (12) during the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

  • Marquette guard Trent Lockett (22) shoots user pressure from Syracuse forward C.J. Fair (5) during the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

    Marquette guard Trent Lockett (22) shoots user pressure from Syracuse forward C.J. Fair (5) during the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams (1) passes around Marquette guard Junior Cadougan during the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

    Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams (1) passes around Marquette guard Junior Cadougan during the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

  • Marquette head coach Buzz Williams yells instruction to the court during the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament against Syracuse, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

    Marquette head coach Buzz Williams yells instruction to the court during the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament against Syracuse, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

  • President Barack Obama waves to the crowd as he watches the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament between Syracuse and Marquette, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)

    President Barack Obama waves to the crowd as he watches the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament between Syracuse and Marquette, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)

  • Marquette forward Davante Gardner (54) reacts after scoring during the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament against Syracuse, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

    Marquette forward Davante Gardner (54) reacts after scoring during the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament against Syracuse, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

  • Syracuse forward James Southerland (43) lands on Marquette guard Junior Cadougan (5) as Syracuse center Baye Keita (12) looks for the rebound during the second half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
  • Syracuse forward C.J. Fair (5) falls on Marquette guard Junior Cadougan (5) during the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
  • Syracuse forward C.J. Fair (5) cuts down the net following their 55-39 win over Marquette in the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
  • Marquette forward Steve Taylor Jr., (25) and Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams (1) reach for a loose ball during the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
  • Syracuse guard Brandon Triche (20) heads towards the basket as Marquette guard Vander Blue (13) watches during the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
  • Marquette guard Trent Lockett (22) passes the ball away from Syracuse center Baye Keita (12) during the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
  • Marquette guard Trent Lockett (22) shoots user pressure from Syracuse forward C.J. Fair (5) during the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
  • Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams (1) passes around Marquette guard Junior Cadougan during the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
  • Marquette head coach Buzz Williams yells instruction to the court during the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament against Syracuse, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
  • President Barack Obama waves to the crowd as he watches the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament between Syracuse and Marquette, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)
  • Marquette forward Davante Gardner (54) reacts after scoring during the first half of the East Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament against Syracuse, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Wichita State is headed to the Final Four, and these Shockers should be no surprise to anybody.

Not after the way they held off mighty Ohio State in the West Regional final.

Malcolm Armstead scored 14 points, Fred Van Vleet bounced in a big basket with one minute left, and ninth-seeded Wichita State earned its first trip to the Final Four since 1965 with a 70-66 victory over Ohio State yesterday.

Van Vleet scored 12 points as the Shockers (30-8) followed up last week’s win over top-ranked Gonzaga with a nail-biting victory over the second-seeded Buckeyes (29-8), whose 11-game winning streak ended one game short of their second straight Final Four.

Wichita State roared to a 20-point lead with 11 minutes to play after Ohio State played an awful first half, but LaQuinton Ross scored 15 of his 19 points after halftime, leading a ferocious rally to within three points in the final minutes.

But after Tekele Cotton hit a 3-pointer with 2:20 left, VanVleet scored on a shot that bounced all over the rim before dropping. Ron Baker and Cotton hit last-minute free throws to secure the second Final Four trip in Wichita State’s history.

Wichita State is just the fifth team seeded ninth or lower to reach the Final Four since seeding began in 1979, but the second in three years following 11th-seeded VCU’s improbable run in 2011.

The Shockers are also the kings of Kansas, reaching the national semifinals after the powerful Jayhawks and Kansas State both went down.

Deshaun Thomas scored 21 points after missing nine of his first 12 shots for the Buckeyes, who made just 24 percent of their first-half shots. Aaron Craft scored nine points on 2-for-12 shooting for the Buckeyes, who dug a hole too deep to escape with their second-half rally.

But after two weeks of upsets in the wild West bracket, underdog Wichita State was an appropriate choice to cut down Staples Center’s nets. The Shockers’ well-balanced roster built that enormous lead with the same consummate team play that they’ve shown throughout the tournament.

Two sections packed with cheering Shockers fans provided all the encouragement necessary for a team that didn’t win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament and was thought to be a bubble team for an NCAA berth. Now, Wichita State is the MVC’s first Final Four team since Larry Bird led Indiana State to the title game in 1979.

Another giant awaits the Shockers in Atlanta next weekend: They’ll face the winner of today’s Midwest Regional final between Duke and Louisville.

Seven seasons after underdog George Mason crashed the Final Four and underlined college basketball’s growing parity, the Wichita State is the latest smallish school to get on a big roll in the tournament. Butler made the national championship game in 2010 and 2011, and the Bulldogs were joined by that VCU team in the Final Four two years ago.

This year’s tournament included stunning wins by Florida Gulf Coast, La Salle and Harvard, but nobody kept it going longer than Wichita State.

Although the Shockers have a beautiful home arena and robust support from fans and donors in Kansas’s largest city, Coach Gregg Marshall acknowledged that Wichita State’s athletic budget is a fraction of what a BCS school can spend. He hasn’t let it slow down his team.

The 50-year-old Marshall is in his sixth season at Wichita State, but he fits in well with the up-and-coming coaches who made their reputations through unlikely tournament success such as Butler’s Brad Stevens or VCU’s Shaka Smart.

Marshall, who says he’s “not a jumper” when it comes to job opportunities, spent nine seasons at Winthrop, making seven NCAA tournaments before moving to Wichita in 2007, where he rebuilt the Shockers into a Top 25 team last year – only to lose to 12th-seeded VCU in the first round of the 2012 tournament.

Wichita State made it this year as a bubble team after losing in the Missouri Valley Conference tourney, but the Shockers followed up an opening-round win over Pitt with an impressive victory over Gonzaga, the top seed in the West and the No. 1 team in the nation at the end of the regular season.

The Shockers did spend 10 games ranked in the AP Top 25 this season before a three-game skid from Jan. 29-Feb. 5. Wichita State then lost consecutive games to Evansville and Creighton before the MVC tournament.

Marshall’s pregame speech to the Shockers finished with talk of cutting down the nets at Staples Center before getting on that plane back to Kansas, saying Wichita State didn’t have to play “a perfect game” to beat mighty Ohio State.

“The Mecca awaits in Atlanta,” he said.

Marshall was right, but he couldn’t have anticipated just how imperfect Ohio State would be.

The postseason-tested Buckeyes appeared calm and confident during warmups in front of their healthy fan contingent, yet they proceeded to play the first half just like NCAA newbies.

They missed their first seven shots after the opening tip in a string capped by an airballed 3-pointer from Thomas, who missed his first five overall. The junior star was labeled “a bad-shot taker and a bad-shot maker” by Marshall on Friday, but he only lived up to the first part of that billing while going 4-for-13 in the first half.

Early hit two 3-pointers in the opening minutes, and the Shockers opened a 25-15 lead with 6 1∕2 minutes left on an 8-0 run featuring 3s from role players Tekele Cotton and Demetric Williams. Ohio State got plenty of its own open shots, but the Buckeyes struggled to knock down anything – a sharp contrast from earlier in the tournament.

With the packed, yellow-clad cheering section behind their bench roaring and rolling, the Shockers stretched their lead to 13 points 1:48 before halftime even though Ohio State finally got some defensive stops, bodying up to Carl Hall and Wichita State’s low-post offense.

Hall went to the locker room after drawing a charge from Thomas early in the second half, holding the back of his head after Thomas’s elbow clipped him on the jaw, sending his protective goggles flying. Hall found his glasses and got back in the game 66 seconds later.

Wichita State gradually stretched its lead early in the second half, eventually going up 44-27 on Armstead’s cool 3-pointers with 14:51 to play. Early’s layup put the Shockers up by 20 with 12:09 to play, but he went to the locker room moments later after landing awkwardly in the paint.

Ross desperately tried to rally the Buckeyes, scoring eight consecutive points and leading a 23-6 run midway through the second half. Ohio State went into a full-court inbounds defense as its sizable cheering section attempted to rally its team, and Thomas’s free throws trimmed the lead to 11 points with 7:41 to play.

Thomas’s putback basket with 4:07 left cut the lead to 60-52, the smallest margin since seven minutes remained in the first half. That’s when Wichita State forgot even how to inbound the ball, turning it over Cotton didn’t step onto the court quick enough to receive a return pass.

Ross hit a 3-pointer, made a steal and added two free throws in a 30-second span to cut the Shockers’ lead to 62-57 with 3:13 left.

EAST REGIONAL

Syracuse 55, Marquette 39

Jim Boeheim calls this year’s Syracuse team his best defensive group ever. Hard to argue, based on the suffocating performances that put the Orange in the Final Four.

Using its trapping, shot-challenging 2-3 zone to perfect effect for 40 minutes, No. 4-seeded Syracuse shut down No. 3 Marquette in the East Regional final to earn Boeheim his first trip to the national semis since a freshman named Carmelo Anthony helped win the 2003 NCAA title.

“It’s a great thing,” Boeheim joked afterward. “We go once every 10 years.”

Fittingly, a matchup between schools from the soon-to-break-apart, rough-and-tumble Big East became quite a struggle on the offensive end. Syracuse (30-9) was led by senior forward James Southerland’s 16 points. Michael Carter-Williams, a 6-foot-6 guard who is out front in the zone, was named the regional’s top player after having 12 points, eight rebounds and six assists yesterday.

Marquette (26-9) hadn’t scored fewer than 47 points all season – and, indeed, put up 74 in a victory over Syracuse on Feb. 25. But this time, Marquette kept turning the ball over, seeing its shots blocked or just plain missing.

It was much like what happened Thursday in the regional semifinals, when Syracuse knocked off top-seeded Indiana by limiting it to a season-low output, too.

“I don’t think we’ve played as good defensively as these last two games,” senior guard Brandon Triche said. “We held some good teams down.”

All told, Marquette made only 12 of 53 shots – 23 percent – and was 3-for-24 on 3-pointers. Vander Blue, who carried Marquette to the round of eight, was held to 14 points on 3-for-15 shooting. Its 39 points were a record low for a team in a regional final since the shot clock was introduced in 1986.

In the national semifinals at Atlanta next week, Syracuse will face the winner of today’s South Regional final between Florida and Michigan.

Last season, Syracuse fell a victory short of the Final Four, losing to Ohio State in the round of eight.

“We wanted to get over the hump,” Southerland said. “That’s what I told the guys: We’ve still got two more to go.”

The Big East is transforming radically before next season. Syracuse is heading to the Atlantic Coast Conference, while Marquette is one of seven basketball-centric schools departing the conference to form a new league that is taking the Big East name with it.

But talk about a last hurrah.

Not only is Syracuse on its way to the Final Four, but the league also could have a second representative because Louisville is in the Midwest Regional final today against Duke.

Exactly three weeks ago, Syracuse wrapped up its final Big East regular-season schedule with a bad-as-can-be performance in a lopsided loss to Georgetown, scoring 39 points – the Orange’s tiniest total in a half-century.

Thanking fans after yesterday’s victory, Boeheim said: “I’m sure some of you were here, three weeks ago today, when it didn’t turn out so good.”

That was Syracuse’s fourth loss in a span of five games, a stumbling way to head into tournament play. Since then, though, Boeheim’s team has won seven of eight games.

“When you bounce back like that, that says a lot about your kids, your team and your character,” Boeheim said. “This is a heck of a bounceback.”

And the secret to success? Defense, naturally.

“We got the right personnel for each key position,” C.J. Fair said. “We got big long guards, we got big long forwards that can cover ground and our centers do a good job holding down the inside.”

Syracuse really needed only one run on offense in the second half, making five shots in a row during a spurt that gave it a 41-28 lead with 9½ minutes left.

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