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Kansas State suffers upset loss to La Salle

By ARNE GREEN

Special to The Hays Daily News

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - At least Kansas State went down fighting.

Even that looked pretty dicey for a while.

But after erasing an 18-point halftime deficit and overtaking No. 13 seed La Salle with more than seven minutes left, the Wildcats were unable to finish down the stretch Friday as they fell, 63-61, to the Explorers in the second round of the NCAA Tournament's West Regional at Sprint Center.

La Salle (23-9), which needed a first-round play-in victory against Boise State on Wednesday night to make the main 64-team bracket, got three free throws from Jerrell Wright in the last 30 seconds and held fourth-seeded K-State (27-8) without a field goal during the last 4:54 to secure the upset.

"They couldn't score against our defense at all," K-State guard Martavious Irving said after the Wildcats limited La Salle to three second-half field goals. "We thought we had control but we started fouling, they made free throws and we didn't."

The Wildcats also missed their last eight field goal attempts, including an off-balance heave from the baseline by Angel Rodriguez that could have forced overtime.

"Sometimes when you do come back like that, you exert so much energy," K-State coach Bruce Weber said of the Wildcats' inability to put La Salle away. "They made plays down the stretch, we didn't."

Senior center Jordan Henriquez, who finished with season highs of 17 points and 12 rebounds to go with five blocked shots, gave K-State its final lead, 61-60, when he hit the front end of a one-and-one with 2:25 left. The Wildcats had two more chances to extend it, but McGruder put up a wild runner in the lane with the shot clock running down and also had a 3-pointer go in and out in the final minute.

Henriquez fouled Wright going for the offensive rebound with 30 seconds left and Wright's two foul shots put the Explorers ahead to stay. On K-State's next possession, Henriquez tried a spin drive into the lane and missed, and McGruder sent Wright to the line again at 9.6 seconds.

"It was a play drawn up but it wasn't drawn up for me," Henriquez said. "I just made a play.

"Coach just told us we have to go there and play basketball. I guess I just made a play off of that."

Wright made the first of two free throws -- La Salle was 12 of 14 in the second half, K-State 6 for 13 -- leaving the Wildcats with a chance to extend the game. Rodriguez dribbled into the right corner, was pinned along the baseline behind the backboard and tried to fling the ball toward the basket with one hand.

"(We wanted) an open shot, somebody to make a play," Rodriguez said of the final possession. "But nobody was really open, not even myself, and I guess I shot that hoping I'd have some luck."

Weber, sensing a breakdown, signaled for timeout but couldn't get the officials' attention.

"I saw Thomas (Gipson) coming and I said 'Get into a ball screen,' which we practice all the time and read it," Weber said. "But once (Rodriguez) refused it and went (into the corner) I tried to call timeout.

"I guess it's my fault. I just waited too long."

La Salle coach John Giannini credited Mills' defense on Rodriguez and Wright's free throws for putting the Explorers over the top.

"He got us over the hump a number of times, made gigantic free throws," he said of Wright, the Explorers' lone big man at 6-foot-8, who led all scorers with 21 points on 6-for-6 shooting from the field with 9-for-10 from the line, plus grabbed eight rebounds. "Sam Mills, an outstanding defender, got the last stop one-on-one against Rodriguez (and) was able to close the game out.

"That's what I thought the keys were."

The Explorers, who also got 19 points from Ramon Galloway -- 15 in the first half -- and 10 from Mills, raced to an early lead against a shell-shocked K-State team, knocking down three quick 3-pointers and opening a double-digit advantage with less than 6.5 minutes gone. They led 44-26 at intermission.

K-State stormed back with eight straight points to start the second period, cut it to 52-50 on Henriquez's driving dunk with 9:37 left and went in front for the first time, 57-56, on McGruder's rebound basket at the 7:11 mark.

The Wildcats got 17 points from Shane Southwell, who kept the Wildcats afloat with nine first-half points and knocked down a 3-pointer to open the second. McGruder had 13 points and six rebounds in his final game.