After blowing a 18-point halftime lead and despite being held without a field goal for nearly eight minutes, the 13th-seeded La Salle Explorers overcame a dismal 2nd half performance and upset the 4th-seeded Kansas State Wildcats, 63-61.
The Explorers raced out to a 44-26 lead before the break–thanks to some hot shooting from beyond the arc, shooting 6-11 from three in the opening half. K-State had no answers and looked as if they would go quietly in front of a virtual home crowd in Kansas City, Missouri, only a two-hour drive down I-70 from their Manhattan campus.
But the favorite fought their way back into it in the second half.
The Wildcats opened with an 8-0 run to cut the lead to 44-34, ended by Wright’s layup with 15:40 left. That would be the only field goal in a nearly five-minute stretch for the Explorers, which allowed K-State to cut it to 49-46 with 11:26 to go. After a Sam Mills three pointer to get it back up to 6, the Wildcats opened up a 11-4 run–capped by a Rodney McGruder putback–to go up 57-56, their first lead of the game, with 7:05 to go.
That would set up Wright’s late game performance. The sophomore hit seven straight free throws the rest of the way and scored all nine La Salle points over the final 7:55; meanwhile, the Explorers failed to hit a single field goal in that time frame; in fact, they went a awful 3-18 (16.7%) in the 2nd half. But K-State didn’t do much better; they only scored five points after McGruder’s tally.
However, this one would come down to the wire. Down two and with the basketball, a ugly possession resulting in a off-balance jumper by Angel Rodriguez missed badly, and the Explorers found themselves celebrating.
Wright led La Salle in scoring with a nearly flawless 21 (a perfect 6-6 from the floor and 9-10 from the line). Ramon Galloway tallied 19 behind 3-7 shooting form beyond the arc. For K-State, Henriquez and Shane Southend each scored 17 to lead the way (a combined 14-20 from the field); McGruder scored 13.
The Explorers will take on Ole Miss on Sunday, with the winner headed to the Sweet 16.