SALT LAKE CITY - For those who don't already, it's time to Fear the Beard. After an amazing double-overtime victory, Jacob Pullen and Kansas State are one win from the Final Four.
Scruffy beard and all, Pullen hit a pair of three-pointers in the second overtime and finished with 28 points to help the second-seeded Wildcats outlast No. 6 Xavier, 101-96, in an epic game Thursday night in the West Regional semifinals.
"It was a classic," Pullen said. "It was two teams that didn't want their season to end."
The Wildcats (29-7) get to keep going. After knocking off one so-called mid-major, they'll play another - fifth-seeded Butler - on Saturday to try to make the Final Four for the first time since 1964. This is the first time Kansas State has made it this far in the NCAA Tournament since 1988.
Hard to call Xavier (26-7) a loser on this night, though.
With the Musketeers trailing by three at the end of regulation, former Hempstead star Terrell Holloway got fouled while heaving up a 30-footer with five seconds left and made all three free throws. Xavier was down by three again at the end of the first overtime, but Jordan Crawford jacked up a 35-footer that hit nothing but net.
"It was just one of those moments," Pullen said.
One that certainly belongs on YouTube, right beside Crawford's dunk on LeBron James, for sure.
But for Kansas State, this victory might land in a more permanent archive. It was a classic - the latest great moment in a season that took on its own personality in January, when Pullen decided to let the beard he grows along his jaw turn into something Abe Lincoln could love - and the K-State administration went along with it, passing out fake beards to fans who came to Bramlage Coliseum.
Now the whole team has facial hair and the fans wear T-shirts that say "Fear the Beard." Only entertaining if the team plays well, and at this point, there's no arguing that.
With Pullen slowed down and in foul trouble, Denis Clemente kept Kansas State in it, scoring 21 of his 25 points after halftime.
It looked as though Kansas State had it wrapped up when Pullen made a three-pointer and two clutch free throws late in regulation to help the Wildcats take a pair of three-point leads.
Xavier had 9.7 seconds left and needed to go the length of the court and make a three-pointer. Wildcats coach Frank Martin called on the familiar strategy of trying to foul before a Xavier player could take the shot.
Chris Merrieweather was hacking away at Holloway (26 points), but no whistle came - until Holloway, feeling the slaps, heaved up a shot from 30 feet and got the whistle with five seconds left. Bang, bang, bang - and the first overtime was on.
K-State's inside team of Curtis Kelly (21 points) and Jamar Samuels (14) did most of the damage in that one to make it 87-84 with 18.1 seconds left. But, proving that no three-point lead is safe against Xavier, Crawford spotted up from 35 and made it to force the second OT. The sophomore finished with a career-high 32 points.
"I just had a big sigh and said, 'Let's go out and play some more basketball,' '' Kelly said. "And that's what we did."
Xavier led 93-91 with 1:23 left in the second overtime. Exhausted and in foul trouble, the Musketeers had no answer for Pullen at the end. He hit an open three from the top of the key for a 94-93 lead with 1:09 left. Jason Love made one of two free throws on the next possession, then Pullen hit the next three to make it 97-94.
Pullen and Clemente then hit four straight free throws in the last 24 seconds to ice the game.
When it was over, K-State fans, who made the 1,000-mile trip from the Little Apple, chanted "K-S-U! K-S-U!" Love stood near the foul line and drooped his head - dispirited and exhausted, certainly taking little consolation that he was part of an instant classic.
A game that nonetheless featured 53 fouls, as the refs tried to gain control of a meeting between opponents who were playing for the fourth time in four seasons. The first three were brutal contests that weren't particularly close or fun to watch.
The fourth one was a masterpiece, especially for Pullen, who played 40 minutes, and Clemente, who played 48 and has less than 48 hours to get ready for Butler.