Gregg Marshall simply called it majestic.
Indeed, the shot left the hands of Fred VanVleet and seemed to kiss the heavens before coming down. Sixteen thousand and sixty fans at EnergySolutions Arena hung on its trajectory. When the ball finally nestled softly through the net, the destiny of two teams with drastically different paths became clear.
Wichita State was going to the Sweet 16. Gonzaga was going home.
The final was 76-70, as the Shockers tackled each other at midcourt when the buzzer sounded prematurely on the Bulldogs’ season. Marshall — Wichita State’s coach — jubilantly joined the fray, dancing with his players. He proved emphatically that he shouldn’t quit his day job.
And when everyone could think clearly, the third round of the West Region had become upset Saturday. Gonzaga is the first No. 1 seed to lose in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. The Shockers — aptly named — are just the fifth No. 9 seed in Big Dance history to advance to the second weekend.
“These guys never quit,” Marshall said. “We got a big lead, and then Gonzaga makes a great run, proving it’s the No. 1 team in the country. I asked them on October 15th, would you take the chance to go to the Sweet 16. They went out and did it.”
In pushing the Missouri Valley Conference to 3-0 for the tournament, Wichita State rode a wild 40 minutes of momentum swings. The Shockers led by as much as 13 in the first half. They trailed 49-41 with eight minutes remaining, and 58-51 with 6:29 left on a 3-pointer by Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos.
Then the magic began, the kind of magic that’s made March Madness a national staple. A 30 percent team from 3-point range, Wichita State made their final five shots from beyond the arc. Impressively, the two teams traded 3-pointers like two boxers standing toe-to-toe in the middle of the ring trading right hooks.
It was the Shockers who never blinked. Senior forward Carl Hall drained a jumper to supply Wichita State with a 62-61 lead. Elias Harris came right back with two free throws to give the Bulldogs the advantage right back. Ron Baker put the Shockers ahead for good at 64-63 with money foul shots.
Baker — who missed 21 games this season due to injury — then nailed a 3-pointer. Up 67-65 with 1:28 remaining, VanVleet hit his rainbow back-breaker with 1:28 remaining and the shot clock reading one second. The five-point lead turned out to be enough. Gonzaga would not seriously threaten again.
“This is incredible for our team,” Baker said. “We came together down the stretch and we pulled off the upset. The feeling is unimaginable because we went through a lot to get here. We wanted to win, and we went out and got it.”
Now, the Shockers find themselves in a great position. With Kansas State and Wisconsin losing, Wichita State will be the higher seeded team when it faces either No. 12 Ole Miss or No. 13 La Salle of Philadelphia in the regional semifinal.
Suddenly, the team that lost its league title game to Creighton finds itself in position to make a real run.
At the same time, Gonzaga searches for answers. The Bulldogs had control of the game and appeared poised to pull away for the win. But bad shot selection and shaky defense down the stretch derailed what had been a dream season.
Cleanthony Early and Baker led Wichita State with 16 points each. VanVleet had 13 points and Hall scored 10. All-American seven-footer Kelly Olynyk led Gonzaga with a game-high 26 points. He grabbed nine rebounds.
“It was a wonderful ride for us,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said. “You have to credit Wichita State. They made tough shots and they were able to make the plays needed to win the game.”
Storylines Shockers live up to their name
R Wichita State becomes the fifth No. 9 seed ever to advance to the Sweet 16.
• Gonzaga becomes the first No. 1 seed this year to fall in the NCAA Tournament.