SALT LAKE CITY -- Long after the jump shots stop falling and their ballyhooed beards go gray, Kansas State players will look back on this game as one of the best they ever played.
|Boards: College hoops | Kansas State | Xavier|
Same for the guys at Xavier, hard as it was to appreciate after a heartbreaker like that.
Jacob Pullen - the guard who brought the phrase "Fear the Beard" to the Little Apple -- hit a pair of 3-pointers in the second overtime to help K-State outlast Xavier 101-96 on Thursday night in the West Regional semifinals.
An instant classic.
"It was two teams that didn't want their season to end," said Pullen, who finished with 28 points.
It added yet another dramatic chapter to an NCAA tournament that has already been crazy. This was the fifth game to go to overtime - and the second that went to double OT.
After knocking off one so called mid-major, the second-seeded Wildcats (29-7) will play another -- fifth-seeded Butler -- on Saturday to try to make their first Final Four since 1964.
This is the first time Kansas State has made it this far since 1988.
The sixth-seeded Musketeers (26-9) were seeking their third trip to the regional finals in seven years. They missed, just barely, but it was hard to call anyone a loser on this night.
"As good a game as I've ever coached or been a part of," coach Chris Mack said.
Trailing by three at the end of regulation, Xavier's Terrell Holloway got fouled while heaving up a 30-footer with five seconds left and calmly made all three free throws. Xavier was down by three again at the end of the first overtime, but Jordan Crawford jacked up a 35-footer that hit nothing but net.
"It was just one of those moments," Pullen said.
One that certainly belongs on YouTube, right beside Crawford's dunk on LeBron James, for sure.
But for Kansas State, this victory might land in a more permanent archive.
It was the next great moment in a season that took on its own personality in January, when Pullen decided to let the beard he grows along his jaw turn into something Abe Lincoln could love - and the K-State administration went along with it, passing out fake beards to fans who came to Bramlage Coliseum.
Now, the whole team has facial hair and fans wear T-shirts that say "Fear the Beard."
Only entertaining if the team plays well, and at this point, there's no arguing that.
"Real proud of our guys to find the courage and character to figure out a way to overcome some of our mistakes and some of the shots that Xavier made," K-State coach Frank Martin said.
With Pullen slowed down and in foul trouble, Denis Clemente kept Kansas State in it, scoring 21 of his 25 points in the second half.
It looked as though Kansas State had it wrapped up when Pullen made a 3-pointer and two clutch free throws late in regulation to help the Wildcats take a pair of three-point leads.
"It was an emotional roller-coaster," Pullen said. "I hit a shot at the end of the game, I'm thinking, `That's game. That's the nail in the coffin."'
Xavier still had 9.7 seconds left, though, and needed to go the length of the court and make a 3-pointer. Martin called on the familiar strategy of trying to foul before a Xavier player could take the shot.
Clemente and Chris Merriewether were hacking away at Holloway (26 points), but no whistle came - until Holloway, feeling the slaps, heaved up a shot from 30 feet and got the whistle with 5 seconds left. Hit all three free throws - and the first overtime was on.
"Denis tried to foul beforehand, but the ref didn't see it," Pullen said. "And then Chris went to foul again, and Holloway made a smart play and put the ball up."
K-State's inside team of Curtis Kelly (21 points) and Jamar Samuels (14) did most of the damage in the first OT to make it 87-84 with 18.1 seconds left. But, proving that no three-point lead is safe against Xavier, Crawford spotted up from 35 and made it to force the decisive OT. The sophomore finished with a career-high 32 points.
"When you make a couple of them shots, you do kind of start to think that it's meant to be," Crawford said. "Unfortunately, it didn't happen that way."
Xavier led 93-91 with 1:23 left in the second overtime. Exhausted and in foul trouble, the Musketeers had no answer for Pullen at the end. He hit an open 3 from the top of the key for a 94-93 lead with 1:09 left. Jason Love made one of two free throws on the next possession, then Pullen hit the next 3 to make it 97-94.
Pullen and Clemente then combined for four straight free throws over the last 24 seconds to ice the game.
When it was finally over, K-State fans, who made the 1,000-mile trip from Manhattan, Kan., chanted "K-S-U! K-S-U!" Love stood near the foul line and drooped his head - dispirited and exhausted, certainly taking little consolation that he was part of an instant classic.
A game that nonetheless featured 53 fouls, as the refs tried to gain control of a meeting between opponents who were playing for the fourth time in four seasons. The first three were brutal contests that weren't particularly close or fun to watch.
The fourth one - a masterpiece, especially for Pullen, who played 40 minutes, and Clemente, who played 48 and has less than 48 hours to get ready for Butler.
"I expected it to be a hard-fought game. I didn't expect it to be like this," Martin said. "But they were phenomenal. And our guys were pretty good, too."