Kragthorpe: ESA's first foray into Big Dance is one epic experience
In hopes of recapturing some of the school's long-lost basketball glory, Kansas State will play Saturday afternoon for a Final Four berth.
EnergySolutions Arena is just getting started in the NCAA Tournament business, but the building is already enjoying quite a postseason run.
In ESA's 19th season, the college version of playoff basketball was staged downtown for the first time. This will be tough to follow as an opening-night act: Kansas State 101, Xavier 96 in double overtime.
When it was over, after nearly three hours Thursday, Xavier's Jason Love stood motionless until teammates consoled him. K-State's Chris Merriewether crouched in front of the bench, undoubtedly relieved after his blunder -- a poorly executed foul on purpose, resulting in three Musketeer free throws with five seconds left in regulation -- made the extra 10 minutes of drama possible, or necessary, depending on your point of view.
Finally, Xavier's guards ran out of clutch shots and comebacks and BYU-killer Jacob Pullen helped secure the victory for the Wildcats with two three-pointers in the second overtime. Not until Xavier's Dante Jackson missed a three-point try to tie with a good look in the last 12 seconds and Denis Clemente made two free throws for K-State was anything decided.
"It took a lot of courage for our guys to stay the course, especially after what happened at the end of regulation and in overtime," said Wildcat coach Frank Martin.
This was a you-had-to-be-there epic, much like the Arizona-Gonzaga two-OT game in 2003, one of many memorable moments in the Huntsman Center's long NCAA history. ESA's tournament saga began with a decent contest between Butler and Syracuse and then went to a whole other level.
"That's two teams refusing to give in, refusing for their seasons to end," Martin said.
You'd better bet CBS did some second-half switching from Kentucky-Cornell. If Kansas State's win over Xavier in December was a hard-to-watch defensive struggle, the rematch was compelling for all 50 minutes.
The Wildcats opened the game looking a lot like the team that eliminated BYU last weekend in Oklahoma City. Having outscored the Cougars 71-49 over the last 29 minutes, K-State stunned Xavier with a 19-4 start.
Xavier responded with clever drives from guards Terrell Holloway and Jordan Crawford. The Musketeers took the halftime lead (32-31), which would have seemed inconceivable after the first eight minutes.
That was just the start of the back-and-forth nature of this game. Beginning with the last six minutes of regulation, there were 10 lead changes and nine ties. It was 72-72 after 40 minutes, then 29-24 for K-State in the last 10 minutes.
"Sweet 16 time is winning time," Holloway said. "Big players kind of make big plays at that time."
He's right, and the only downside of it all was that several terrific plays will be barely be remembered. That's a shame, because they were coming from every direction: Clemente's four-point play, Jackson's tough three-pointer from the left corner and Pullen's apparent game-winner from the left angle. And those were just in regulation.
After Holloway forced overtime with three free throws -- thanks to Merriewether's fouling him while shooting, instead of dribbling -- Xavier again was down by three in the last five seconds. Jordan's 25-footer extended the game, highlighting his 32-point night.
"Every time we thought the game was over ... they made another tough shot," Pullen said.
Pullen, who was benched for a long stretch of the second half after picking up his third foul, came through in the second OT. Having scored 34 points against BYU, he finished with 28. Eight came in the last 1:11, giving him a place in ESA history, likely for a long time to come.
K-State tops Xavier in instant classic
Beginning with the last six minutes of regulation time, there were 10 lead changes and nine ties. › D3
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