Wichita State’s history-making season ended at the hands of one of college basketball’s most historic programs.
That is probably no consolation. The end came abruptly, as they always seem to in March, when a five-point lead disappeared. Eighth-seeded Kentucky defeated the top-seeded Shockers 78-76, ending the greatest win streak in college basketball history.
Kentucky, 26-10, made 15 of 19 free throws in the second half. Julius Randle made two with 22.5 seconds to play for a 77-74 lead. After Wichita State’s Ron Baker missed a guarded three, Cleanthony Early rebounded and drew a foul. His free throws, with 9.8 seconds to play, made it 77-76. Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison made one foul shot and missed the second with 7.2 seconds to play.
Wichita State called timeout at halfcourt with three seconds remaining. Guard Fred VanVleet took the inbound pass and dribbled clear for a three, which hit hard off the heel of the rim and bounced away, ending Wichita State’s season with a 35-1 record.
Early led all scorers with 31 points. Baker added 20 for the Shockers. Andrew Harrison led Kentucky with 20 points and twin brother Aaron added 19.
The game seemed more fitting for a Final Four matchup. Instead, Wichita State heads home and the Wildcats advance to the Sweet 16. The Shockers led 69-64 on Early’s three with under five minutes to play. Kentucky ended the game on a 14-7 run.
The Wildcats played with more intensity in the second half and quickly cut Wichita State’s nine-point lead to one on a three-point play by Randle. A layup by Alex Poythress briefly gave the Wildcats a lead. A three by Aaron Harrison regained it 48-46.
Randle, after resting a few minutes, completed a three-point play with 11:38 to play for a 53-49 lead. Nick Wiggins started a charge by the Shockers with a three from the wing. A basket by Chadrack Lufile brought Wichita State within 55-54. After a Wildcats miss, Early’s layup gave Wichita State 56-55 lead. He sprinted past defenders again for a layup and a 58-55 lead, prompting a Kentucky timeout with 8:54 to play.
Wichita State made three threes — two by Early — to turn a 60-all tie into a 69-64 lead.
The Wildcats scored their next four points at the foul line. They took a 70-69 lead on James Young’s basket. Early responded with a long jumper, giving him 29 points, to restore a one-point lead. Young came through again, making a three over the Wichita State zone for a 73-71 lead.
Tekele Cotton’s three bounced out.
Kentucky made seven of its first 11 shots to lead 16-13. The Wildcats led 19-15 on Andrew Harrison’s three-pointer.
Cotton responded with a three to start a run that gave the Shockers control of the first half. His steal and free throws put Wichita State up 20-19 with 9:53 to play. Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison, playing with an injured right elbow, dribbled the ball across his body in front of VanVleet, who poked it away. VanVleet grabbed the loose ball and fed Darius Carter for a dunk and a 22-19 lead.
Ron Baker’s layup gave Wichita State a 28-23 lead and Early’s basket forced a Kentucky timeout with 5:12 to play. After another Kentucky turnover, VanVleet made two free throws with 4:37 to play for a 32-23 lead.
Kentucky made a push to grab momentum before halftime with a 6-2 run. Early shut that down with a show-stopping dunk over 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein. VanVleet — again — started the play with a steal. His bounce pass led Early to the basket for swooping one-handed dunk. His free throw made it 37-28 with 46.2 seconds to play.
The Shockers led 37-31 at halftime after making 13 of 24 shots and 8 of 9 free throws. Early scored 10 points in the half. Kentucky made 13 of 24 shots, but took only three free throws. The Shockers stayed out of foul trouble, with Darius Carter and Evan Wessel the only players with two.
James Young led Kentucky with eight first-half points.