The Kansas State Wildcats found themselves in a 19-point hole during the first half of their Second Round NCAA Tournament game against La Salle on Friday afternoon as the Explorers were knocking down three pointers right and left and the Wildcats couldn’t find their game.
After halftime, it was nearly the reverse as K-State outscored La Salle 31-12 to start the stanza turning a 44-26 deficit into a 57-56 lead. However, the Wildcats were only able to muster four more points in the final seven minutes and nine seconds allowing the Explorers to rally for a 63-61 victory Friday afternoon at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. bringing a sudden close to the Wildcats’ 2012-13 season.
The Explorers out of the Atlantic 10 Conference and playing in their first NCAA Tournament in 21 years jumped out to a 28-9 first half lead with a barrage of three-point baskets while K-State struggled from beyond the arc and also missed some close-in shots as La Salle built their 18-point halftime lead. However, the Wildcats came out firing in the second half scoring the first eight points out of the locker room to cut the deficit to 10 points. Even with La Salle regaining their footing K-State kept the pressure on and took their first lead of the game with 7:09 left on a jumper by Rodney Mc Gruder. However, missed free throws and costly fouls down the stretch doomed the Wildcats who had just one field goal the rest of the game. Leading 61-60 with 30 seconds left, McGruder missed a three-point shot that rattled out of the basket and a subsequent foul allowed La Salle to take a 62-61 lead on a pair of free throws. After another missed basket, the Explorers hit one of two free throws with 9.6 seconds left but K-State still had an opportunity to tie or win the game. However, Angel Rodriguez attempt to tie the game fell well short and was batted away as the buzzer sounded and La Salle’s players broke out into a boisterous celebration.
Jordan Henriquez and Shane Southwell each scored 17 points for the Wildcats while McGruder added 13. Jerrell Wright had a game-high 21 points for La Salle including what proved to be the game-winning free throws in the final 30 seconds that gave the Explorers two tournament victories for the first time since 1955. Ramon Galloway added 19 points and Sam Mills had 10.
Kansas State (27-8) was eliminated in their first NCAA Tournament game for the first time since falling to New Mexico in the first round of the 1996 Tourney and in their first post-season contest for the first time since TCU knocked them out of the National Invitation Tournament in 1999. It was the final game for Seniors Enriquez, McGruder and Martavious Irving. La Salle with the victory will play Mississippi in the third round on Sunday at Sprint Center. The Rebels knocked off Wisconsin earlier Friday 57-46.
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