KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There were circumstances that would have sunk most teams with La Salle sprinting early, crawling late but doing enough to live another day.
The 13th-seeded Explorers continued their postseason run with Friday’s 63-61 win over No. 4 Kansas State before 18,301 partisan Wildcats fans at the Sprint Center.
La Salle (23-9) meets SEC tournament champion and 12th-seeded Mississippi in Sunday’s third-round game.
After a first half in which La Salle led by as many as 19 points and held an 18-point advantage at intermission, the Explorers held on for dear life by surviving both the Wildcats and their boisterous purple-clad fans.
“Throughout the game we tried to keep calm,” said La Salle guard Sam Mills, who scored 10 points and had the defensive play of the game. “We knew they would take their punch and we had to deal with it.”
In the second half, it was more like one body blow after another.
La Salle led 44-26 at halftime in what arguably was their best 20 minutes of the season, especially considering the competition.
The Explorers, who shot 63 percent from the field in Wednesday’s first-round win over Boise State, were 18 for 31 (58.1 percent) from the field and 6 of 11 from beyond the arc.
“La Salle comes at you in a number of ways,” said Kansas State coach Bruce Weber. “Obviously they jumped on us.”
Using the inspired play of 6-foot-11 Jordan Henriquez, who finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds, the Wildcats stormed back and eventually led by two with just over six minutes remaining.
Kansas State had the momentum and the crowd was going crazy, but La Salle countered with Jerrell Wright. The 6-foot-8 sophomore had 21 points, hitting all six field goal attempts, and he added eight rebounds. He was 9 for 10 from the foul line, after going 1 for 5 against Boise State to enter the game a 60 percent free throw shooter.