OMAHA, Neb. — Wichita State senior Darius Carter had just turned to head up the court when an elbow caught him in the kisser.
The impact pushed one of his front teeth back into his mouth, and he thought he was going to lose it. The tooth was saved and Carter was out of the game for only a few minutes. When he came back, he dunked.
Yeah, he was playing angry, as is the Shockers’ mantra.
"I let out a big scream and I felt a release," he said. "I just wanted to win, that’s all."
Carter returned in time for Wichita State’s decisive run in an 81-76 victory over Indiana on Friday in the NCAA Tournament. The win sets up a much-anticipated Sunflower State showdown against second-seeded Kansas.
"I’m thankful I got my tooth," Carter said. "That would be a bad look, to not have a front tooth."
As it was, there were toothy smiles all around as No. 7 seed Wichita State won its tournament opener for the third straight year in its typical bruising style.
Fred VanVleet led the way for the Shockers (29-4) after a slow start, taking the ball to the hoop often against an Indiana team that, because of injury, was short on rim protectors. VanVleet matched his career high with 27 points and Ron Baker, who struggled from the field, made seven of eight free throws in the last two minutes.
And now, finally, the Shockers can talk about their first game against the Jayhawks since 1993.
"It’s a big thing for the state of Kansas," said Baker, who hails from Scott City. "A lot of houses are going to be divided. Being a player from Kansas, I’m really fortunate to be in this game. These types of games don’t happen a whole lot."
Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell scored 24 points for Indiana (20-14). James Blackmon Jr. added 14 points, while Troy Williams and Collin Hartman had 11 apiece.
"We’re not happy with the outcome today. Certainly we could have played better," Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "But I have zero disappointment in the way these guys battled, competed and persevered throughout the season."
The Shockers trailed by eight points in the first half and played from behind most of the game before going on a 15-3 run in the middle of the second half for their biggest lead. Freshman Zach Brown, who had a career-high 11 points, did much of the work, scoring off an inbounds play, dunking and putting back Tekele Cotton’s miss to make it 65-57.
Wichita State answered each time Indiana looked ready to come back. After Williams made a smooth move through the lane to cut it to 76-74, Carter laced a pass through the lane to Cotton, who went up and under to restore the four-point lead.
Ferrell made a couple free throws to get Indiana within two, but Baker hit a pair on the other end with 19 seconds left.
Bodies were on the floor often and the fouls were hard. Just ask Ferrell, who landed on his backside after getting rocked by Cotton and got up with a grimace. And then there was Carter and that tooth-jarring elbow he took.
"We pride ourselves on toughness, the whole ‘play angry’ thing," Carter said. "We all have a will to win."
Indiana: Ferrell has made a 3-pointer in 65 straight games, the longest active streak in the country. … The Hoosiers won the only previous meeting, 75-54 in Dec. 1989.
Wichita State: Coach Gregg Marshall has won five of six against Big Ten opponents in his eight years at WSU, with three of those wins coming in the postseason. … The Shockers are in the tournament for a school-record fourth consecutive year and Cotton is the only WSU player to appear in four tournaments.
IT’S BEEN AWHILE
Wichita State hasn’t played Kansas since a 103-54 loss at Allen Fieldhouse in Jan. 1993. Sunday’s winner advances to the Sweet 16.
"They whipped us last time," Marshall said. "I don’t know where I was 23 years ago. I was a neophyte in coaching. But it’s an opportunity, a wonderful opportunity, and whoever plays best is going to win."
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"Indiana, another historic college basketball team. So we’ve got Kentucky last year at the end, Indiana, now Kansas. I guess we could play the Lakers and the Celtics after that." — Marshall.
Indiana: Season over.
Wichita State: Plays Kansas in the round of 32 Sunday.