Shockers hold off resilient Rebels for first-round victory in NCAA tournament

Wichita State overmatched the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels for 36 minutes and held them scoreless until the 12:33 mark of the second half Thursday night, then cashed in on a hail of free throws late in the game for a 68-64 victory in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Wichita State, the No. 11 seed in the Midwest Region, led by seven at the half and held a six-point lead with just under eight minutes to play when Corey Henderson turned the game upside down by hitting three consecutive 3-pointers to make it a one-point game.

The Shockers were right back up by five before UNLV’s Anthony Bennett scored on a runner in the lane to make it a one-point game with a minute to play. Wichita State’s Malek Harris made one of two free throws on the next possession, and UNLV turned the ball over on its next two possessions to set up a chance for the Shockers.

Evans Jr. got the ball with his back to the basket and elevated over Jordan Johnson, but lost control of the ball when Johnson tried to recover it. Malik Pope tipped the ball and secured it for Wichita State before Francis Edwards hit a layup with five seconds to play to help seal the Shockers’ win.

UNLV (23-13) was led by Henderson’s 27 points. Johnson added 17, Bennett had 12 points and 13 rebounds and Elgin Cook added 10 points.

The Shockers (26-9) had no answers for Henderson and saw their season end after taking down Kentucky to secure the Missouri Valley Conference championship earlier in the day. Johnson, a 6-foot-4 sophomore guard from Atlanta, Georgia, was named the Missouri Valley Player of the Year. Bennett was the conference’s most valuable player.

Henderson hit his first 3-pointer with 5:15 to play and UNLV, the No. 8 seed in the West Region, took off from there.

The Shockers started to attack UNLV’s zone defense late in the first half, getting to the line as they shot 56 percent from the field through the first 20 minutes. Their pressure defense also allowed them to force UNLV into 15 turnovers.

Wichita State shot 60 percent from the field in the second half and held the Rebels to 1-for-13 shooting from behind the arc after the break. Henderson was held to two points on 1-for-7 shooting after the break.

Thursday’s game marked the 10th meeting in the history of the men’s basketball series between the two schools, and the Rebels lead the series 6-5. The Shockers won the most recent meeting in the 2006 NCAA tournament in the Sweet 16, while the last game was a game that went to overtime in the quarterfinals of the 2015 Midwest Regional.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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