HOUSTON - With a 72-49 romp over Omar Samhan and surprising Saint Mary's in a South Regional semifinal Friday night, Baylor reached the NCAA Tournament's round of eight less than seven years after a tragic summer nearly destroyed its program.
"That's the reason why we came here. To be a part of something special," Tweety Carter said. "It really means a lot to me, this team, this program, for us to come through all the adversity."
Carter and LaceDarius Dunn, two top Louisiana prep players, came to Baylor in the reeling aftermath of a murder and scandal that shook the world's largest Baptist university.
Coach Scott Drew had to rebuild with reduced scholarships and a roster decimated when the top three scorers were allowed to transfer.
Dunn scored 23 points with four three-pointers and Carter had 14 points Friday night.
"It's a good step for us. Hopefully, we can take a couple of more," said Josh Lomers, the roster's only senior other than Carter. "Hopefully, it can keep growing for decades in the future."
The third-seeded Bears (28-7) led 46-17 at halftime and could begin looking ahead to Sunday, when they will play Duke for a chance at their first Final Four since 1950.
Samhan, who had become a breakout star in the tournament with his dominating play in the first two rounds and his one-liners when talking or tweeting, had 15 points and nine rebounds for the Gaels (28-6). He shot 1-for-8 in a three-point first half.
"I've never been more proud of anything in my life than this team and this coaching staff," he said. "So it didn't matter how it ended."
The tiny school from Moraga, Calif., that beat Villanova and Richmond earlier in the tournament was headed home after shooting only 35 percent (19-for-54). It was an incredible run for the Gaels, whose only NCAA Tournament win before last week was in 1959.
"Bottom line, when it was all said and done, I was proud of what we did this year," coach Randy Bennett said. "I told them they we stunk tonight . . . Nobody wanted it to go that way, but it went that way."