This wasn’t 1981. This was better.
Seventh-seeded Wichita State didn’t need a miracle shot from deep or an NBA front-line to dispatch second-seeded Kansas 78-65 in the NCAA Tournament at CenturyLink Center.
The Shockers reprised their 1981 NCAA win with a physical beatdown of the Jayhawks, sending them into the Sweet 16 and sending their fans into orbit with a win over the school that won’t offer them the respect of a regular-season game.
Wichita State, 30-4, will play Notre Dame on Thursday in the Midwest Region semifinal in Cleveland. Kansas, 27-9, lost in the tournament’s first weekend for a second straight season.
What a scene, one Wichita State agitated for since the teams last met in 1993. The Shockers won 66-65 in 1981 in New Orleans and KU dominated the series, such as it was, until it ended in 1993. When the Shockers surged, they wanted to play. Kansas didn’t.
Why not? The scene in Omaha provided the answer.
Kellen Marshall unveiled a yellow shirt reading “Kings of Kansas.” Kansas fans departed before the final horn. Shockers fans sang out “You don’t want to go to war with the Shockers.” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall danced to the tune, pointed at the band and hugged Evan Wessel.
Fred VanVleet cupped his ear and asked the crowd for more noise. Wessel and Tekele Cotton hugged at mid-court and pointed to the crowd. University president John Bardo stood on the court and pumped his fist to the Shockers fans. The crowd chanted “Evan Wessel, Evan Wessel.”
The Shockers made 10 of 20 three-pointers with Wessel making four of six to score 12 points. Cotton led WSU with 19 and VanVleet added 17.
Perry Ellis and Devonte Graham led Kansas with 17. The Jayhawks shot six of 21 from three-point range and committed 14 turnovers.
Wichita State led 29-26 at halftime and controlled most of the second half.
The Jayhawks put pressure on WSU when they cut the lead to to 63-55 on a steal and basket by Frank Mason.
The Shockers flicked that pressure away with a series of layups. They flew through a press to get Darius Carter a layup for a 65-55 lead. VanVleet ran the pick and roll to find Carter for another layup. Cotton stole the ball and rushed in for another layup and a 69-57 lead. After the basket, VanVleet gathered the Shockers at midcourt for what looked like instructions on how to finish off one of biggest wins in school history.
Wichita State continued its run in the second half to go up 41-30 with a display of defense and physical basketball that wilted the Jayhawks. Evan Wessel’s three gave the Shockers a 37-30 lead. VanVleet drove for an uncontested layup and a 39-30 lead. After VanVleet bullied KU’s Frank Mason into a miss and turnover, he got to the rim again and Baker followed in his miss for an 11-point edge.
Kansas steadied itself briefly at the foul line. Cotton’s three pushed the lead to 49-36 and Shockers fans bounced in joy. KU fans looked stunned.
Wessel made another three for a 54-40 lead, only to see Mason answer quickly.
Wichita State’s Zach Brown, announcing himself in March, made another big play when he deflected a pass, out-hustled a Jayhawk to the loose ball and dunked for a 56-45 lead. Brown kept coming with a corner three for a 61-48 lead.
Carter picked up two fouls in the first half, one muscling for a rebound already secured by a Jayhawk. On the next play, he bumped Devonte Graham with 11:01 to play and sat the rest of the first half.
Kansas built a 24-16 lead and the Jayhawk fans roared.
Wichita State struggled to score with Carter on the bench, but three-pointers kept them close. Wessel, taking a break from wrestling with Perry Ellis in the post, made a long three to cut KU’s lead to 24-19. Baker’s three made it 24-23 and completed the Shockers’ 7-0 run.
Ellis responded with two free throws with 2:46 to play before the Shockers tore off another burst. Tekele Cotton tried for a highlight dunk on Landen Lucas and settled for a ball that bounced in. His three-point play made it 26-all. After KU’s Wayne Selden missed a runner, VanVleet got open behind a screen for a three-pointer and Wichita State’s first lead since 2-0.
The Shockers led 29-26 at halftime by closing the half on a 13-2 run. They made five of 11 three-pointers in the first half, which helped them survive seven turnovers and a 5-1 deficit on the offensive boards.