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Wichita State almost comes back from 21-point deficit to Miami

The Shockers showed a lot of heart battling back against the Hurricanes to take the lead, but ran into a hot shooting Angel Rodriguez.

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

With 12 minutes remaining in the second half, Shaquille Morris slammed down a dunk to cut what had once been a 21-point Miami lead to just three points. It appeared that the comeback was going to be a given at that point. No one keeps the Shockers down for long.

Except Miami, apparently. Led by Angel Rodriguez, the Hurricanes withstood the Wichita State charge and advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 65-57 win.

Rodriguez was brilliant, scoring 28 point on a ridiculous 9-for-11 shooting, adding five assists and four steals. That he was able to do that well against the defense of Fred Van Vleet, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, speaks words about the talent that Rodriguez has. And while he committed seven turnovers, he was just unstoppable when he found his shot.

Despite the loss, it was a valiant comeback for Wichita State, who found themselves down 27-6 after a little more than 11 minutes. Most teams would have chalked this one up to a loss, given the way the shots were not falling. But not this team, which never gives up until the final buzzer.

"Throughout my career here, the word quit has never sank in well with our vocabulary," Baker said. "Our guys fight until the end."

The loss ends an amazing four year run for Wichita State, and the careers of a number of seniors on the roster, most notable Van Vleet and Baker. During the run by the Shockers, they have won nine NCAA Tournament games, reached the Final Four, and earned a No. 1 seed. As of Saturday morning, only five schools have more wins in the NCAA Tournament during that time: Louisville, Duke, Michigan, Wisconsin and Kentucky. Each of those schools have either won the championship or reached the title game during that run.

"And just thank [Baker, Van Vleet] and all five seniors for allowing us to ride their coattails," Gregg Marshall said following the loss. "They've taken us on the -- I term it a magic carpet ride for the last five years for Evan [Wessel] and Ron and four years for Fred. What they've done for this program, this University, the state of Kansas and college basketball, it's been incredible."

That the Shockers were even into the second round says a lot about what Marshall has built in Wichita. Wichita State didn't just beat Arizona, they demoralized them. They crushed fellow bubble team Vanderbilt in Dayton. They seemed like the Wichita State teams of old: unstoppable, and underrated for how good they really were.

And that is what the comeback on Saturday showed as well. This teams is much better than anyone gave them credit for this year, except for maybe some of the advanced metric sites that had them among the top 15 teams in the country. Despite all the struggles through injuries and setbacks along the path to this year's Tournament, this was a team that should have been considered among the elite.

They were just a little short Saturday afternoon.

"It's been a hell of a ride," Van Vleet said. "All good things got to come to an end at some point, unless we were able to cut down the nets in Houston this year. I probably would have cried just the same just because it was over."

The Shockers managed to score just eight shots outside of the paint, and shot a paltry 27.3 percent from 3-point range. They got cold, much like they did against Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley semifinals, and they still almost won this game.

Van Vleet and Morris led the way with 12 points each, while Baker scored 11. The emerging leader for the Shockers, Markis McDuffie had nine points and three rebounds off the bench.

Miami will take on the winner of Iowa and Villanova in Louisville on March 24.