La Salle v Kansas State

The recipe for upsetting a higher seed when you’re a sizable underdog is usually pretty straightforward – take care of the ball, get the most out of your possessions, get out to a big lead, then hope like hell you can hold off the higher seed once they inevitably wake up. No. 13 La Salle followed that blueprint to a tee on Friday afternoon in holding off No. 4 Kansas State in the wild West Region.

(video courtesy of cfb hoops)

The Explorers, who beat Boise State in a play-in game on Wednesday night after waiting until the last minute to find out if they’d even be invited to the Madness, turned the ball over just eight times against the Wildcats and jumped out to a shocking 44-26 halftime lead before Kansas State opened the second half with an impressive 31-12 run of their own to take their first lead of the game with just 7:05 remaining.

That’s where La Salle really proved their worth and impressed me, however. It’s one thing to run up a big lead against a sleeping favourite in the first half, but it’s another to avoid a total collapse once that heavy favourite storms back to take the lead. Credit the Explorers for not only taking Kansas State’s best punch in the second half, but for punching back even harder and emerging victorious to further muddle the picture in the West Region of the bracket.

Sophomore forward Jerrell Wright carried La Salle with an incredibly efficient 21 points on just six field goal attempts (6-for-6) to go with eight rebounds and a couple of blocks, while Kansas State got a combined 47 points from the trio of Jordan Henriquez, Shane Southwell and Rodney McGruder, but only got 14 total points from the rest of the team.

The disappointment can’t be overstated for the Wildcats, who went 27-7 in pre-tournament action, made an appearance in the Big 12 title game and finished 12th in the final AP Poll. In addition, this marks the first time in the program’s last five tournament appearances that they didn’t win at least one game once here.

As for the Explorers, I’ve mentioned too many times to count over the last couple of days that the West Region looks wide open and this result only further solidifies that, as No. 13 La Salle will now take on No. 12 Ole Miss on Sunday with a berth in the Sweet 16 up for grabs.