SALT LAKE CITY — The standing ovation said it all.
Shortly after Xavier guard Jordan Crawford drilled a 3-pointer from beyond NBA range to tie his team's Sweet 16 game against Kansas State and send it into double overtime on Thursday, the Musketeers and Wildcats heard the loudest and longest roar from the EnergySolutions crowd of the night, a standing ovation from their fans, as well as Syracuse and Butler backers and impartial patrons.
Fans simply didn't want it to end.
And for two teams that played a clunker of a basketball game back in December, they redeemed themselves with a masterpiece. For Kansas State, the Sweet 16 game was a bit sweeter, as the Wildcats outlasted Xavier 101-96 in a double overtime classic to advance to Saturday's West Regional final.
"That's March basketball at its finest right there," said Kansas State coach Frank Martin. "That's two teams refusing to give in, refusing for their seasons to end. They were phenomenal and our guys were pretty good, too." The game had it all: cold-blooded 3-pointers from both sides to prolong the game into double OT, clutch free throws, missed foul shots, a four-point play, brilliant offensive execution and a controversial foul call that helped the game reach a first extra session. It featured 13 ties and 17 lead changes.
Guard Jacob Pullen, who led Kansas State with 28 points, drilled a 3-pointer with 31.2 seconds left in double overtime to give the Wildcats the lead for good at 97-94. Xavier got within a point on two free throws by Terrell Holloway, but failed to score on their final two possessions to end the game.
"Tonight felt eerily similar to Ali-Foreman and they landed the last punch, unfortunately," said Xavier coach Chris Mack.
Kansas State advances to the Elite 8 for the first time since 1988, and it is one win away from reaching the Final Four for the first time since 1964.
"It was a classic," Pullen said of his team's win over Xavier. "Every time we thought the game was over with you could see it in their eyes — they didn't want their season to end either."
Kansas State, as Pullen said, had chances to win in regulation and the first overtime but couldn't put away a scrappy Xavier team that kept fighting until time ran out.9 comments on this story
The Wildcats led for nearly the entire first overtime but couldn't get any separation from the Musketeers. Holloway drained a 3-pointer to tie the game at 84-84. Crawford's 3-pointer from about 30-feet out tied it at 87-87. Denis Clemente had a decent look on the other end and missed, and the crowd rose to their feet for a prolonged standing ovation in appreciation of both teams' effort.
The only real controversy in the game came late in regulation.
Xavier, which trailed by as many as 15 points in the game's first 8 minutes, drew a three-shot foul with 5 seconds remaining when Holloway was hacked on an attempt from close to 30 feet out. The sequence was controversial because Holloway was initially contacted by Clemente, who put both hands on him near the half-court line, and no call was made.
Holloway made all three free throws to tie the game at 72-72 and force overtime.