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VOLS' MAGICAL SEASON ENDS WITH 80-73 LOSS TO WICHITA STATE
Chris Lofton

Chris Lofton

March 18, 2006

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GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) -- P.J. Couisnard stepped back from the defender and launched a straightaway 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down. As soon as the ball swished through the net, Couisnard pointed triumphantly to Wichita State's rowdy fans.

The message was clear.

The team from that pesky mid-major conference was on its way to the NCAA tournament's round of 16 for the first time in 25 years.

Karon Bradley hit a go-ahead jumper with about 2 minutes left while Couisnard followed with that big 3 to help Wichita State beat second-seeded Tennessee 80-73 Saturday in the Washington Regional, giving the Missouri Valley Conference's regular-season champion a second straight win over an opponent from a power conference.

Now the seventh-seeded Shockers (26-8) are experiencing all the March magic they could only imagine while languishing through an 18-year NCAA drought.

"This is one of those moments I'm never going to forget," said Paul Miller, who had 10 points and eight rebounds. "It's just something that you never understand until you're actually there. You see it on TV and you see teams going to the Sweet 16 and winning big games in the NCAA tournament, and to be a part of it means a lot.

"It's just been an amazing weekend. This is my all-time favorite moment, right here."

Wichita State opened the tournament with an 86-66 win over Seton Hall, silencing those who wondered why the MVC got four tournament bids. But beating the Volunteers (22-8), the Southeastern Conference's East division champion, means so much more.

Couisnard finished with 20 points on 6-for-7 shooting for Wichita State, which used a late 7-0 spurt to break a 65-all tie and advance to face the winner of Sunday's George Mason-North Carolina game.

When the horn finally sounded, coach Mark Turgeon pumped his right fist in the air while fans began chanting "MVC!" and "Sweet 16!"

"I kept saying we weren't any good when practice started, and now we're part of the Sweet 16," Turgeon said. "We just keep getting a little bit better."

Kyle Wilson added 17 points to help make up for some struggles by Miller and Sean Ogirri, the Shockers' first-round leaders. Miller, the MVC's player of the year, shot 1-for-9 after scoring 15 against the Pirates. Ogirri scored 12 points and didn't get his first basket until late in the first half after finishing with 23 against Seton Hall.

But the balanced Shockers got contributions throughout the lineup. Couisnard went 4-for-4 from 3-point range, Wilson hit three 3s and Ryan Martin scored 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting, including a slam with 5.2 seconds left to start the celebration.

"It's been that story all year," Wilson said. "It's rare that the same person is our leading scorer in the next game. It shows we have options on the offensive end and it makes us a hard team to guard."

Chris Lofton - who hit a last-second shot to beat Winthrop 63-61 in the first round - and C.J. Watson each scored 20 points to lead the Volunteers. Major Wingate finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and five blocks.

The Volunteers ended their first season under coach Bruce Pearl on a disappointing note after exceeding expectations all year behind an up-tempo attack and pressure defense. Still, it was a significant step forward for a program that had gone 61-59 in four seasons since last making the NCAAs in 2001.

"We'll be back," Pearl said. "I'm very, very proud of these young men. I can't tell you how many people have written or called and said how much they enjoyed this basketball team. This Tennessee basketball team will go down as one of the all-time best, and this was the group that got it started."

Tennessee led 63-58 on a pair of free throws from Watson with 5:42 left, but the Shockers rallied to tie it at 63 on a 3-pointer from Ogirri.

After the teams traded baskets, Bradley drained a jumper from just outside the lane for a 67-65 lead with 2:12 left. Couisnard followed with the stepback 3 over Dane Bradshaw for a 70-65 lead with 1:05 left.

Ogirri closed the spurt with two free throws for a 72-65 lead with 50.5 seconds left. Tennessee twice cut the deficit to three points in the final seconds, but got no closer as Wichita State went 8-for-10 at the foul line in the final minute to seal it.

"I think we were in a position where we had them where we wanted them," said Bradshaw, who had two points and three steals. "I guess we just didn't execute. I'm not sure really what happened."

 

 

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