SALT LAKE CITY – Gonzaga’s gone.
Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker scored 16 points each and Wichita State hit 14 3-pointers, including seven straight late, to knock the top-ranked and No. 1 seeded Bulldogs out of the NCAA tournament, 76-70, on Saturday.
The Shockers (28-8) advanced to the Round of 16 for the first time since 2006, while Gonzaga becomes the first top seed to be eliminated.
Gonzaga survived a scare in the second round against Southern but couldn’t hold up against a fellow mid-major from Kansas whose motto is “play angry.”
The Shockers, who will face the winner of today’s game between La Salle and Ole Miss, had the Zags down 13 early. Although Gonzaga (32-3) fought back, the barrage of 3s was too much for the small school from Spokane, Wash.
Kelly Olynyk scored 26 points to lead Gonzaga, and Kevin Pangos had 19.
While Gonzaga held the top spot in The Associated Press’ Top 25 over the final weeks of the season, skeptics thought of the Bulldogs as a soft No. 1 seed that benefited from a relatively easy schedule in the West Coast Conference while other top contenders were getting banged around in the power conferences.
One thing is sure: Wichita State was not intimidated.
“They never quit,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “You know we got the big lead, Gonzaga makes a great run as a No. 1 team in the country would, and these guys dig down.”
Shockers, for sure.
They showed their grit after Gonzaga’s 12-0 run gave the Bulldogs a 49-41 lead with 11:53 left. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Kevin Pangos and Michael Hart started it, Olynyk hit a jumper then a pair of free throws, and Pangos capped it with a steal and fast-break layup.
But Wichita State outscored the Zags 35-21 from there.
Tekele Cotton, Early and Baker hit three straight 3s to get the Shockers within 61-60.
Baker’s free throws gave Wichita State the lead for good at 64-63 with 3:10 left. He then hit a 3 and freshman Fred VanVleet helped seal it with a final 3 with 1:28 remaining.
At one point, Early and teammate Chadrack Lufile jumped up and body slammed each other and the Shockers huddled at midcourt for a long team hug. But largely, Wichita State acted like a team that’s been there before.
“We play together, we stick to our goals, we’re good teammates,” Baker said. He hardly looked fazed.”