Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker scored 16 points apiece and Wichita State hit seven straight 3-pointers late to knock the top-ranked and No. 1 seeded Bulldogs out of the NCAA tournament 76-70 on Saturday.
The Shockers (28-8) advanced to the Round of 16 for the first time since 2006, while Gonzaga became the first top seed to be eliminated, giving all the Zags doubters an I-told-you-so moment.
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The Zags survived a scare in the second round against Southern but couldn’t hold up against a fellow mid-major from Kansas whose motto is “play angry.”
The Shockers face the winner of Sunday’s game between La Salle and Ole Miss.
Wichita State had the Zags down 13 early. Though Gonzaga (32-3) fought back, the barrage of 3s was too much for the small school from Spokane, Wash.
Kelly Olynyk scored 26 points to lead Gonzaga, and Kevin Pangos had 19.
While Gonzaga held the top spot in the AP Top 25 over the final weeks of the season, skeptics thought of the Bulldogs as a soft No. 1 seed that benefited from a relatively easy schedule in the West Coast Conference while other top contenders were getting banged around in the power conferences.
One thing is certain: Wichita State was not intimidated.
“They never quit,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “You know we got the big lead, Gonzaga makes a great run as a No. 1 team in the country would, and these guys dig down.”
Shockers, for sure.
They showed their grit after Gonzaga’s 12-0 run gave the Bulldogs a 49-41 lead with 11:53 left. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Kevin Pangos and Michael Hart started it, Olynyk hit a jumper then a pair of free throws, and Pangos capped it with a steal and fast-break layup.
But Wichita State outscored the Zags 35-21 from there.
Tekele Cotton, Early and Baker hit three straight 3s to get the Shockers within 61-60.
Baker’s free throws gave Wichita State the lead for good at 64-63 with 3:10 left. He then hit a 3 and freshman Fred VanVleet helped seal it with a final 3 with 1:28 remaining.
The Shockers, who made just 2 of 20 3-pointers in their 18-point win over Pitt on Thursday, shot 50 percent from beyond the arc and 50 percent overall.
“They deserve ton of credit,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “It’s the first time in a while someone made 50 percent on us, and to bang in 14 3s (overall) is pretty amazing.”
It was another sudden end to an amazing ride for Gonzaga. The Bulldogs were playing in their 15th straight NCAA tournament but have not advanced past the Round of 16 since 1999.
“I think we just … let our guard down a little bit,” said Gonzaga’s Mike Hart. “That was key. We defended so well at start of the second half, then we just lost some guys. You can’t do that when guys get it going. You gotta get a hand up and stay close to your assignments. We kinda lost it there a few possessions and that really hurt us.”
While the Zags left disappointed, the Shockers stayed fairly low key in victory.
At one point, Early and teammate Chadrack Lufile jumped up and body slammed each other and the Shockers huddled at midcourt for a long team hug. But largely, Wichita State acted like a team that’s been there before.
“We play together, we stick to our goals, we’re good teammates,” Baker said. He hardly looked fazed.
The game was physical as expected, with Olynyk getting a forearm across his neck in the first half but continuing to go hard at the basket.
Gonzaga’s 39-30 rebounding edge couldn’t make up for 36 percent shooting.
Six different Wichita State players hit 3s in the opening 20 minutes as the Shockers made 7 of 15 from beyond the arc in the first half.
They finished 14 of 28 overall.
“Man it means a lot,” the Shockers’ Carl Hall said. “It means a lot to this program and our fans deserve this.”