LOS ANGELES — They hugged strangers. They cried. They became a sweaty mosh pit of Shocker euphoria.
They didn’t even care that the big celebrity in the Los Angeles crowd – Ohio State grad and Grammy winner John Legend – was long-faced and disgusted.
The significantly outnumbered Shocker fans inside the Staples Center on Saturday – who witnessed WSU’s 70-66 victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes – reacted much like you would expect fans of a team not expected to make it to the Final Four to react when their team makes it to the Final Four.
“That was all-the-way intense,” said Gary Kinard, a 1983 WSU graduate who was swinging a sweat towel in the air and performing a euphorically unbalanced victory dance. “I’m in heaven right now. I’m in Shocker heaven! I’m in Shocker heaven!”
Minutes earlier, though, many of those same fans had been in intestinal distress.
The game, which the Shockers led from the start, came down to the final few seconds. Before the buzzer sounded, fans dressed in yellow and black were a mess of emotions – groaning, swaying, creating permanent worry lines in their foreheads.
But it ended the way that Scott Sutherland, a WSU junior who traveled to the game with his father, Steven, thought it would.
“Ohio State is a great team,” he said. “But I knew if we played the way we had been playing, we had a real shot.”
When he was done with his first round of on-court interviews, head coach Gregg Marshall climbed into the stands to accept high fives from the fans, who included Elizabeth King, president and CEO of the WSU Foundation. She described the national publicity the win will bring to WSU as something the university could never buy.
And she described Marshall as a coach who doesn’t forget who helped get his team the win.
“He’s so personable and humble, and he recognizes that it’s the fans who have helped the team,” she said.
After the net was cut, player Ron Baker from Scott City was called in front of the fan section, and the pep band fired up a round of “Happy Birthday.” Saturday was his 20th birthday.
As the net was being cut down, WSU graduate Eddy Brotemarkle, who had just achieved his goal of meeting and having his picture taken with childhood hero Reggie Miller, said his immediate plans included a trip to Atlanta.
“I booked my tickets while they were cutting down the net,” he said.
Fans shouted at John Bardo, president of the university, to cancel classes at WSU. That’s a no-go, he said, never losing his smile.
Chadrack Lufile, a junior forward for the Shockers, came into the stands to hug fans. So did senior center Ehimen Orukpe.
A stoic-faced usher, who had tried in vain to keep fans under control in the final moments of the game, finally smiled.
“Have fun in Atlanta,” he told fans.
The win means the Shockers are the only team from Kansas left in the tournament, after the University of Kansas and Kansas State University were both eliminated.
A sign in the crowd, waved throughout the game by a Shocker fan, featured a drawing of the state with a dot for Lawrence and a dot for Manhattan.
It read: “Don’t worry. We’ve got this one.”