SALT LAKE CITY – For those who don’t already, it’s time to Fear the Beard. After an amazing, double-overtime victory, Jacob Pullen and Kansas State are one win from the Final Four.
Scruffy beard and all, Pullen hit a pair of 3-pointers in the second overtime and finished with 28 points to help the second-seeded Wildcats outlast No. 6 Xavier 101-96 in an epic game Thursday night in the West Regional semifinals.
“It was a classic,” Pullen said. “It was two teams that didn’t want their season to end.”
The Wildcats (29-7) get to keep going. After knocking off one so called midmajor, they’ll 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 in the NCAA tournament since 1988.
Hard to call Xavier (26-7) a loser on this night, though.
With the Musketeers trailing by three at the end of regulation, Terrell Holloway got fouled while heaving up a 30-footer with 5 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.
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 at home.
Now, the whole team has facial hair and the fans wear T-shirts that say “Fear the Beard.”
With Pullen slowed 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.
Xavier had 9.7 seconds left and needed to go the length of the court and make a 3-pointer. Wildcats coach Frank Martin called on the familiar strategy of trying to foul before a Xavier player could take the shot.
Chris Merrieweather was 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. Bang, bang, bang – and the first overtime was on.
K-State’s inside team of Curtis Kelly (21 points) and Jamar Samuels (14) did most of the damage in that one to make it 87-84 with 18.1 seconds left. But proving 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.
Xavier led 93-91 with 1:23 left in the second overtime. But exhausted and in foul trouble, the Musketeers had no answer for Pullen at the end.
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