Kansas denied Sweet 16 berth by in-state rival Wichita State
OMAHA, Neb. — Kelly Oubre Jr. slumped in a chair in the corner of the Kansas locker room. Wayne Selden Jr. stared at a bloody towel lying at his feet. Frank Mason III slowly shook his head.
"It hurts to let so many people down," Mason said, quietly.
With the eyes of an entire state on them, the second-seeded Jayhawks were run right out of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, dominated by a scrappy bunch from Wichita State that wasn’t about to let its first chance to play Kansas in nearly two decades slip through its fingers.
The 78-65 defeat not only prevented the Jayhawks from advancing to the Sweet 16, it gave the school they continually spurn some bragging rights for the foreseeable future.
"Anybody that would ever say it means more to them than it did to us, they wouldn’t know what they’re talking about," Kansas coach Bill Self said in the hallway outside the locker room.
"The whole thing is the rivalry, and how it’s played out, it certainly adds a tension and adds to a lot of talk moving forward, I’m sure," Self said. "And it’s not going to be the most pleasant of next few weeks for me personally, but it doesn’t deserve to be."
The Shockers have tried for years to schedule a game against Kansas, but the dominant school in the Sunflower State has always refused, arguing it would have nothing to gain from it.
After the beating they got Sunday, no wonder the Jayhawks don’t agree to it.
Tekele Cotton scored 19 points for the seventh-seeded Shockers (30-4), and Fred VanVleet finished with 17. Evan Wessel added 12 on four 3-pointers, sending the Missouri Valley champions to Cleveland for a Midwest Regional semifinal against third-seeded Notre Dame.
Devonte’ Graham and Perry Ellis had 17 points each, and Mason added 16 for the Jayhawks (27-9), who blew an early eight-point lead and never really threatened in the second half.
"We all knew they were going to bring their best effort," Ellis said. "That was it."
The buzz for the first meeting since 1993 between the schools, separated by just 162 miles, began to build on Selection Sunday, when it first became a possibility. By the time the Jayhawks beat New Mexico State and the Shockers had survived Indiana, the buzz had grown to a roar.
With such pent-up emotion, the start was predictably sloppy.
The Shockers, who had seven turnovers total against the Hoosiers, had that many in the first half. Kansas fouled so often that Wichita State spent more time in the bonus than getting there.
It wasn’t even halftime yet when blood was first spilled.
VanVleet was driving to the rim when his elbow caught Ellis’s nose, sending the Wichita native sprawling to the floor. Red droplets started sliding down his chin, and Ellis retreated to the locker room. When he returned, he had wads of cotton stuffed up his nostrils.
The Jayhawks were leading 24-16 at that point, but the Shockers pounced on their opportunity with Ellis off the floor. They didn’t allow another field goal for the final six minutes, going on a 13-2 closing kick that gave them a 29-26 lead at the break.
Led by the calm, cool play of VanVleet at the point, and with Wessel knocking down just about every 3-pointer he tried, the Shockers had an answer for every salvo from the Big 12 champs.
When the Jayhawks scored four quick points to trim their deficit to 63-55 with six minutes to go, Wichita State broke their full-court press and Darius Carter breezed in for layup.
"We didn’t play very smart," Self said. "We took bad shots, and rushed shots, and you know, basically gave them confidence."
ABOUT THAT SERIES
When asked whether he kissed away any chance of playing Kansas on a regular basis, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall l replied: "Who knows? They may want to play now. I have no idea. I’m not worried about that. I’m fine letting the series lay the way it is right now. The series is good with me."
Wichita State: Ron Baker had 12 points. Carter finished with 10. … The Shockers snapped a five-game skid against Kansas. … Wichita State has won at least 30 games three straight years.
Kansas: Wayne Selden Jr. was scoreless, going 0 for five from the floor. … Mason had five turnovers. … Kansas lost for the first time in six NCAA Tournament games in Omaha.
Wichita State heads to Cleveland to play No. 3 seed Notre Dame.