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03/31/2013 12:03 AM EDT
Wichita State upsets OSU 70-66 for Final Four trip
WICHITA ST 70, OHIO ST 66

By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Cleanthony Early kept stealing glances down
at the hat in his hands while he waited for his turn to climb
the stepladder. The Wichita State forward seemed stunned at the
words on the side of his brand-new ballcap: "Final Four
Atlanta."



"It's crazy. I still can't believe we're here," Early said. "You
try to expect it, but you expect a lot of things that don't
happen. This really happened."



Believe it. Wichita State is going to Atlanta, and these
Shockers are no longer a surprise after the way the tenacious
ninth seeds held off mighty Ohio State in the West Regional
final.



Malcolm Armstead scored 14 points, Fred Van Vleet bounced in a
big basket with 1 minute left, and Wichita State earned its
first trip to the Final Four since 1965 with a 70-66 victory
over the Buckeyes on Saturday.



Van Vleet scored 12 points as the Shockers (30-8) followed up
last week's win over top-ranked Gonzaga with a nail-biting
victory over the second-seeded Buckeyes (29-8), whose 11-game
winning streak ended one short of their second straight Final
Four. Wichita State's 20-point lead in the second half dwindled
to three in the final minutes, but several Shockers stepped up
with big plays to stop the surge, heeding coach Gregg Marshall's
halftime command to "play angry."



All that anger turned into a joyous postgame party at midcourt,
even though the Shockers realize they've got more work to do.



"I don't think we're Cinderella at all," Marshall said.
"Cinderellas usually are done by this stage. If you get to this
point, you can win the whole thing. You beat a No. 1 seed and a
No. 2 seed - I don't think Cinderella just found one glass
slipper. I think she found four."



Wichita State is just the fifth team seeded ninth or higher to
reach the Final Four since seeding began in 1979, but the second
in three years following 11th-seeded VCU's improbable run in
2011. The Shockers' celebration was wild, if a bit disbelieving,
in front of several thousand roaring fans.



"Last year we were watching all this on television," said Early,
who scored 12 points despite spraining his ankle in the second
half. "I just feel like we've got the same potential as those
(big-name) guys, regardless if they know who we are or not. We
just tend to work hard."



Wichita State roared to a 20-point lead with 11 minutes to play
after Ohio State played an awful first half, but LaQuinton Ross
scored 15 of his 19 points after halftime, leading a ferocious
rally that got the Buckeyes within three points in the final
minutes.



Tekele Cotton hit a clutch 3-pointer for Wichita State with 2:20
left and grabbed a key offensive rebound moments later, allowing
VanVleet to score on a shot that bounced all over the rim before
dropping. Ron Baker and Cotton hit last-minute free throws to
secure the second Final Four trip in Wichita State's history and
a school-record 30th win.



"We're happy, but I'm still shocked," said Carl Hall, the
glasses-wearing big man who scored eight points and led the
Shockers' strong defensive effort. "We've got a team full of
fighters. I brought them all together near the end and said, `No
matter what happens, I love y'all.' We had to fight so hard.
We've got each other's backs, and it's hard to beat a team
that's got five guys who work together like us."



Deshaun Thomas scored 21 points after missing nine of his first
12 shots for Ohio State, which made just 24 percent of its
first-half shots. Aaron Craft scored nine points on 2-for-12
shooting against Armstead and a host of defenders for the
Buckeyes, who dug a hole too deep to escape with their
second-half rally.



"The way we shot coming into the Sweet 16, Elite Eight,
everything was falling," Thomas said. "Today, it just wasn't our
night. Nothing was falling. We had great looks, some of them,
but they just weren't falling."



Yet after two weeks of upsets in the wild West bracket, underdog
Wichita State seemed an appropriate pick to cut down Staples
Center's nets. The Shockers' well-balanced roster managed built
that enormous lead with the same consummate team play that
they've shown throughout the tournament.



The Shockers are also the kings of Kansas, reaching the national
semifinals after the powerful Jayhawks and Kansas State both
went down.



Two sections packed with cheering Shockers fans provided all the
encouragement necessary for a team that didn't win the Missouri
Valley Conference tournament and was thought to be a bubble team
for an NCAA berth. Now, Wichita State is the MVC's first Final
Four team since Larry Bird led Indiana State to the title game
in 1979.



Another giant awaits the Shockers in Atlanta next weekend:
They'll face the winner of Sunday's Midwest Regional final
between Duke and Louisville.



"We're all new to this, but I think we're ready for this," Early
said. "We're going to prepare ourselves, and this game was
pretty good preparation. We started at the bottom, and we've
been working our way up."



Everybody chipped in for the Shockers. Armstead, the Oregon
transfer, was named the regional's top player. Baker made nine
free throws without a miss on his 20th birthday. And both Early
and Hall returned to the court with second-half injuries,
pushing Wichita State forward.



Seven seasons after underdog George Mason crashed the Final Four
and underlined college basketball's growing parity, the Shockers
are the latest smallish school to get on a big roll in the
tournament. Butler made the national championship game in 2010
and 2011, and the Bulldogs were joined by that VCU team in the
Final Four two years ago.



This year's tournament included stunning wins by Florida Gulf
Coast, La Salle and Harvard, but nobody kept it going longer
than Wichita State.



Although the Shockers have a beautiful home arena and robust
support from fans and donors in Kansas' largest city, Marshall
acknowledged that Wichita State's athletic budget is a fraction
of what a BCS school can spend. He hasn't let it slow the
Shockers, who made the NCAA tournament last year only to lose to
12th-seeded VCU in the first round.



After the Shockers easily beat La Salle two days ago to reach
their first regional final since 1981, Marshall's pregame speech
to the Shockers on Saturday finished with talk of cutting down
the nets at Staples Center before getting on that plane back to
Kansas, saying Wichita State didn't have to play "a perfect
game" to beat mighty Ohio State.



"The Mecca awaits in Atlanta," he said.



Marshall was right, but he couldn't have anticipated just how
imperfect Ohio State would be.



The postseason-tested Buckeyes appeared calm and confident
during warmups in front of their healthy fan contingent, yet
they proceeded to play the first half just like NCAA newbies.



They missed their first seven shots after the opening tip in a
string capped by an airballed 3-pointer from Thomas, who missed
his first five overall. The junior star was labeled "a bad-shot
taker and a bad-shot maker" by Marshall on Friday, but he only
lived up to the first part of that billing while going 4 for 13
in the first half.



Early hit two 3-pointers in the opening minutes, and the
Shockers stretched their lead to 13 points shortly before
halftime.



"You've got to give them credit," Craft said. "They really came
out firing and we really didn't regain our footing until it was
too late."



Hall went to the locker room after drawing a charge from Thomas
early in the second half, holding the back of his head after
Thomas' elbow clipped him on the jaw. Hall found his glasses and
got back in the game 66 seconds later.



Wichita State gradually stretched its lead early in the second
half, with Early's layup putting the Shockers up 53-33 with
12:09 to play.



Ross desperately tried to rally the Buckeyes, scoring eight
consecutive points and leading a 23-6 run midway through the
second half. Ohio State went into a full-court inbounds defense,
and Shannon Scott's free throws with 2:49 left cut the lead to
62-59 - but Ohio State couldn't get any closer.

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