Making one mistake after another in the closing minutes, Kansas State kept giving Utah State chances. The Wildcats pulled it out, of all places, from the free throw line.
Jacob Pullen scored 22 points and hit some big free throws down the stretch, helping No. 5 seed Kansas State hold off No. 12 Utah State, 73-68, in the NCAA tournament Thursday night in Tucson, Ariz. – the Aggies’ seventh straight opening loss.
Pullen didn’t show any ill effects from the flu that kept him out of practice Wednesday, scoring 10 points in the first half as fifth-seeded Kansas State (23-10) built an 11-point lead. The Wildcats allowed Utah State (30-4) to climb back in it with a string of miscues but closed it out from the free-throw line.
A 64 percent free-throw-shooting team during the season, Kansas State hit nine of 10 from the line in the final 1:08 and 24 of 28 overall to secure a matchup with No. 5-seed Wisconsin on Saturday.
Tai Wesley overcame early foul trouble to score 18 points, Brockeith Pane added 17, and Pooh Williams 16 in what was a gritty-but-disappointing finish to a superb season at Utah State.
The Aggies have been regulars in the NCAA tournament, getting in eight of 12 years, including three straight. They just haven’t done much once they’ve gotten there, bounced after one game six straight times, 14 of 15 since 1971.
The matchup was going to be a head-butting of strengths: Kansas State’s swarming D against Utah State’s patient offense.
The Wildcats’ goal was to disrupt the Aggies’ offensive sets, not let them get to the spots they want on the floor or get the ball into Wesley in the post.
K-State did just that in the first half, making every shot a chore for the Aggies, even the ones that went in. Wesley was almost nonexistent, limited to two points and three due to foul trouble.
The combination left Utah State down 33-22 at halftime.
The Aggies made one last push, closing to 56-50 after two free throws by Brady Jardine and a Williams dunk.
Kansas State wouldn’t let them any closer.
UCLA 78, Michigan St. 76: Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee scored 16 points apiece, and the seventh-seeded Bruins held off a late comeback in Tampa, Fla., by the No. 10 Spartans, who battled back from a 23-point deficit in the last eight-plus minutes. UCLA (23-10) won despite missing 17 free throws, nine of them in the final 3:40. Draymond Green led Michigan State (19-15) with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
Florida 79, UC Santa Barbara 51: Erving Walker scored 18 points and Southeastern Conference player of the year Chandler Parsons added 10 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds in leading the second-seeded Gators (27-7) past the Gauchos (18-14) in Tampa.
Butler 60, Old Dominion 58: Matt Howard scored on a tip-in at the buzzer, giving the eighth-seeded Bulldogs (24-9) a victory over Monarchs (27-7) at the Verizon Center in Washington. After Shawn Vanzant missed, Howard went up with his right hand and put the ball in an instant before time expired for Butler, which will face Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh 74, UNC Asheville 51: Ashton Gibbs scored 20 of his 26 points after halftime, and the bigger, stronger Panthers (28-5) used a 13-5 run early in the second half to beat the Bulldogs (20-14) in Washington. Pitt outrebounded the Bulldogs 50-27.
BYU 74, Wofford 66: Hounded, double-teamed and trapped by Wofford defenders much of the night, Jimmer Fredette still got off 25 shots and made 12 trips to the free-throw line on the way to 32 points as the Cougars (31-4) beat the Terriers (21-13) in Denver.
Wisconsin 72, Belmont 58: Jon Leuer scored 17 of his 22 points in the second half, and the fourth-seeded Badgers (24-8) methodically dispatched the Bruins (30-5) in Tucson, Ariz. – Wisconsin’s fifth consecutive NCAA tournament-opening victory. The Badgers made 12 of 22 3-pointers, led by Jordan Taylor’s 5 of 9.