Thursday night at Staples Center had originally promised to be a thriller, thanks to a fantastic finish to the Ohio State-Arizona game. But the only team who looked alive throughout the whole game was Wichita State as the Shockers absolutely dominated La Salle, 72-58.
Wichita State started the game on a 14-2 run thanks to 10 seemingly easy points by Carl Hall. Outside of a made free throw, La Salle had a 6:30 field goal drought which ended at 12:35, thanks to Tyrone Garland. Later in the first, La Salle went on an 8-2 run, but was only able to cut the lead to 10 points.
The Shockers finished the half on a 9-1 run to take a 16 point lead at the half, as Hall went into the locker room with 14 points (7-8 FG) and 6 rebounds. The Explorers shot an abysmal 26.7% in the first half (thanks to Garland shooting 2-10 and Ramon Galloway shooting 2-9), while the Shockers shot 53.3%.
Shockers head coach Gregg Marshall was not content with the halftime lead: "It's not going to stay between 10 and 20 (the lead) all half. I would rather push it up above 20 and see how they react. It's up to you"
That push came immediately thanks to quick three-point field goals by Ron Baker and Malcom Armstead to push the lead to 22 and force a timeout. La Salle responded with urgency, as the Explorers went on a 10-0 run over four and a half minutes to cut the lead to 12.
However they couldn't get any closer than 11 points (on a couple free throws by Sam Mills). Armstead kept the Shockers comfortably in front, scoring 12 points in the second half (including 8 points over the course of 3:23 when La Salle was trying to put a run together). LaSalle got flustered late, and started drifting away from what kept them competitive early (Jerrell Wright), and Wright wound up sitting some late because he was worn out from running end to end.
Only three of La Salle's five playmakers went into double-digits, as Wright and Garland both scored 16 points, while Galloway scored 11. For the Shockers, Armstead led the way with 18 points, followed by Hall with 16 and Baker who scored 13. Cleanthony Early, who came into this game shooting red-hot in this tournament, scored only eight points and seven rebounds.
Rebounding was a huge problem for La Salle, as Wichita State out-rebounded the Explorers 47-29. The Shockers were all over the floor, fighting for loose balls up in the air and on the ground, as they only let La Salle collect nine rebounds off their own boards.
LaSalle head coach John Giannini credited Armstead's clutch performance in the second half:
"He [Armstead] was absolutely huge. He had three, four big buckets in a row and we were scoring. But if we get the stops, all of a sudden, that 10, 11, 12-point game is a four to eight point game"
Carl Hall was easily the man of the night. The senior who had overcome all sorts of challenges, from transferring in from a junior college to fainting due to a heart condition, probably summed up the teams emotions in the post-game interview:
"It's like I'm in a dream still with this whole Elite Eight situation. So we're just trying to take advantage and take it one game at a time."
The Shockers dream continues to live on, and with a match against Ohio State on Saturday, the dream world won't stop until the clock ticks zero.