KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Around the college basketball world, 13-seed La Salle’s 63-61 victory over four-seed Kansas State will be regarded as an upset.
Not in Kansas State Bruce Weber’s mind.
“I think if you watch La Salle, that was a hard 13 to play, to be honest,” Weber said. “Somewhere along the line they probably had some inconsistency, which led them to that spot. But they’re a whole lot better than that.
“Watching them the other night (in the first round), we all kind of figured we had a heck of a game on our hands. They’re very talented. They come at you in a lot of different ways. Obviously they jumped on us.”
La Salle, now 23-9, stunned the many thousands of K-State fans at Sprint Center by hitting 18 of 31 shots (58 percent) in the first half, including six of 11 3-pointers.
“It seemed like every shot they took went in,” K-State guard Shane Southwell said. “They got some open looks and they didn’t miss.”
As shock set in around Sprint Center, La Salle cruised to a 44-26 halftime lead.
But K-State, fueled by the partisan crowd and an inspiring performance by 7-foot senior center Jordan Henriquez (17 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks), roared back in the second half and drew within one at 56-55 on a layup by Thomas Gipson with seven minutes, 37 seconds left.
K-State later even grabbed the lead, 60-58, on a layup by Henriquez with less than five minutes left.
But then K-State seemed to tire from all the energy expended to erase the 18-point deficit. K-State did not score another field goal, and only had one free throw from then on.
“It’s true that sometimes when you exert so much energy to come back, you lose a little at the end,” Weber said. “I think that happened to us. Martavious (Irving) had a dead layup there in the final minutes and missed. Thomas (Gipson) got the rebound, (missed) the shot. Rodney (McGruder) had a layup and missed. He had the (open) three. We had (missed) free throws.
“Angel (Rodriguez) is one of the best free-throw shooters in the Big 12 and he misses the front end of a bonus. They made the plays down the stretch and we didn’t.”
Well, actually, La Salle made very few plays the entire second half. La Salle made just three of 18 field goals (16 percent) after the intermission. But the Explorers were deadly from the foul line (12 of 14), especially Jerrell Wright, who made five of his final six free throws.
Wright’s two free throws with 30 seconds left gave the Explorers the lead at 62-61, and he added another free throw with nine seconds left to make it 63-61.
That set up a final chance for the Wildcats, but they could not get into their set offense quickly enough. Rodriguez, the point guard who had a dreadful game (0-for-6 shooting, three turnovers), dribbled into a trap along the baseline and had to fling a desperate heave from behind the backboard as time expired.
The shot never had a chance and missed the rim by several feet.
“I tried to see an open shot and get up a good shot,” Rodriguez said. “They played pretty good defense on us that last possession.”
Weber frantically tried to call a timeout when he saw the trap Rodriguez was headed for, but though an official was within a few feet of Weber, a timeout was not granted.
“Once I saw it was bogged up, I tried to get the timeout,” Weber said. “I know it’s tough for the officials because they’re focusing on the game. I looked at the clock at 2.2 (seconds). I yelled it as loud as I could, but we didn’t get the call.
“Sometimes things aren’t meant to be.”
Rodriguez’s miss left the majority of the 18,301 fans in attendance virtually silent, save for a loud roar from the few hundred Explorers fans who made the trip from Philadelphia.
“It’s the worst feeling in the world,” said McGruder, a senior who scored 13 points but hit just five of 17 shots in his final game at K-State.
Southwell lamented the fact the Wildcats couldn’t race past La Salle after making the incredible rally in the second half.
“When we came back and led by one or two,” Southwell said, “in my head I was thinking to myself that we need to get this lead to five or six or seven. But we didn’t, and then they made a lot of free throws down the stretch.”
La Salle moves on to the third round on Sunday against Mississippi. K-State finished the season at 27-8.
“We can’t complain,” Weber said. “We had the advantage of an extra day off, playing on a Friday, playing in Kansas City. We gave it our best shot.
“But it is sad. I’m sad for our guys. These (seniors) left a legacy with the most wins in history for K-State seniors, we got our first Big 12 championship (shared) in 36 years. But it’s disappointing it has to end.
“I gave our guys a goal when we got here (to Kansas City) to go one game further than they did a year ago, and get to the Sweet 16. But we didn’t get by this first one to give ourselves a chance. That’s what is disappointing. We just didn’t get everyone playing on the same level at the same time today, and that’s what you have to do to win at this level.”