KANSAS CITY, Mo. – John Giannini kept calling timeouts as La Salle’s big lead kept slipping away, an 18-point halftime advantage wiped out by fourth-seeded Kansas State’s frantic comeback.
The coach’s message every time was simple: Keep playing defense.
The Explorers finally answered his challenge.
Jerrell Wright made three foul shots in the final 30 seconds, and the No. 13 seed from the Atlantic 10 buckled down on defense in the closing minutes, allowing the Explorers to polish off a 63-61 upset win Friday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Every timeout, every time we came in, he was riding us on defense, said Ramon Galloway, who finished with 19 points for La Salle. We had a good margin, and they came back and actually took the lead. We had to stick together, dig down deep and get some stops.
The Wildcats trailed 44-26 at halftime but didn’t make another field goal after Jordan Henriquez’s layup with 4:54 remaining in the game. In fact, Kansas State managed only one more point – a free throw by the 7-footer with 2:25 left on the clock – the rest of the way.
That gave the Explorers (22-9) the window they needed.
Wright, who scored a game-high 21 points, made his first two clutch free throws to give La Salle a 62-61 lead with 30 seconds left. Henriquez missed in the paint at the other end, then Wright made the first of two more foul shots with 9.6 seconds to go.
The Wildcats (27-8) raced down court, looking for a tying basket, but guard Angel Rodriguez got hung up in the corner near the Kansas State bench. His off-balance shot over the corner of the backboard missed everything, deflating a partisan crowd that packed the Sprint Center.
They made the plays down the stretch and we didn’t, said Kansas State coach Bruce Weber, who let his guys freelance on the final possession rather than calling a designed play.
Weber said he tried to call a timeout with Rodriguez boxed in, but the referees didn’t hear him with the crowd roaring.
I guess it’s my fault, he said. I waited too long.
Sam Mills was credited with shutting down Rodriguez on the game’s final possession.
The junior guard also had 10 points for La Salle, which beat Boise State in one of the First Four games on Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio, caught a late plane to Kansas City and has now won two games in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1955.