LOS ANGELES – Wichita State advanced to its first Final Four since 1965 defeating Ohio State, 70-66, Saturday night in the West Regional Final of the NCAA Tournament at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Behind Regional MVP Malcolm Armstead’s 14 points and seven rebounds and a last minute field goal from freshman Fred VanVleet the Shockers endured a 25-9 second-half run to survive and advance to next Saturday’s Final Four in Atlanta, Ga.
VanVleet and Cleanthony Early each tallied 12 points and Tekele Cotton added 10 to join Armstead as Shockers scoring in double figures.
Deshaun Thomas scored 23 points and LaQuinton Ross added 19 to lead the Buckeyes.
The Shockers took a 35-22 lead into the halftime break with Cleanthony Early leading the way with eight points. The Shockers held the Buckeyes to 24.2 percent (8-33) from the field and 2-for-10 from beyond the arc and outrebounded Ohio State 27-17.
Wichita State continued to control the flow of the game through the first eight minutes of the second half mounting a 20-point lead, 53-33, on Early’s layup with 12:10 remaining.
Ohio State, the Big Ten Conference Tournament Champion and winners of 11 straight games responded with the aforementioned 25-9 run culminating with a pair of free throws from Shannon Scott to draw the Buckeyes within three, 62-59, with 2:49 to play.
With the momentum heavily in favor of the second-seeded Buckeyes, the Shockers got a clutch 3-pointer their next trip down the floor from sophomore Tekele Cotton from the left wing to double its lead back to six, 65-59.
After a Deshaun Thomas layup with 2:10 left in the game got the Buckeyes back within four, 65-61, Cotton teamed with VanVleet for what could be deemed the most crucial possession of the game.
With the shot clock winding down under five seconds and 1:36 left in the game VanVleet lofted a 3-pointer from the top of the key that glanced off the front of the rim only to land in the clutches of Cotton who kicked the ball out allowing the Shockers to take another thirty seconds off the game clock.
With the ball in his hands again, VanVleet made it count hitting a floating jumper in the key that bounced three times on the rim to put the Shockers up 67-61 with 1:00 left in the game.
Ron Baker hit two free throws with :51 remaining to put Wichita State up 69-61 and put the game out of reach.
Wichita State will play the winner of Sunday’s 4:05 p.m. (CST) game between top-seeded Louisville and Duke.
With their 30th victory of the season, the Shockers set a new school record for wins in a season surpassing the 29 wins by the 2010-11 NIT Championship team.