Dylan Disu had a season-high 28 points on 14-for-20 shooting, steadying Texas down the stretch after a late Penn State surge and leading the Longhorns to their first regional in 15 years with a 71-66 victory in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night.
The second-seeded Longhorns (28-8) made just one of 13 shots from 3-point land, so Disu turned this into a mid-range game. He went 5-for-5 over the final 4 1/2 minutes and grabbed 10 rebounds for good measure.
Sir’Jabari Rice scored 13 points for Texas, which will play the Pittsburgh-Xavier winner on Friday in the Midwest Region semifinals in Kansas City, Missouri. The 11th-seeded Panthers and third-seeded Musketeers meet on Sunday.
Camren Wynter had 16 points for the 10th-seeded Nittany Lions (23-14), who were coming off their first NCAA Tournament victory in 20 years. Second-team All-American Jalen Pickett had 11 points and 10 rebounds with seven turnovers.
Andrew Funk (12 points) and Seth Lundy (11 points) rallied after a scoreless first half for each, but the top two 3-point shooters in the Big Ten this season went a combined 4-for-16. Penn State was 8-for-28 from deep, despite a steady stream of clean looks in the second half.
The outside shots that each team leaned on the first round mostly dried up, with the Longhorns going 31:18 without one until Rice, who hit seven 3s on Thursday, connected for a 55-48 lead.
Nittany Lions responded with a 10-0 run. Myles Dread, the one guy with an outside rhythm, hit his fourth 3-pointer of the game with 6:08 left to cut the deficit to one. After Wynter gave Penn State its first lead since 4-3 with a pair of free throws, Timmy Allen threw a wild pass into the backcourt for a Texas turnover that Lundy tracked down for a layup to make it 58-55.
But Disu came back with three straight baskets, a layup, a jumper and a turnaround to give Texas the lead back for good. Wynter took a crucial over-and-back call out of a timeout with 1:59 left that Marcus Carr followed with a layup for Texas.
Carr fouled Lundy on a 3-pointer with 4 seconds left for a four-point play that made it a one-possession game, but Carr finished off the game with a pair of free throws. After the final horn, Allen flashed a big smile as he approached Rice for a hug and yelled, “Sweet 16, baby!”
Texas last went to the regional semifinal in 2008 and hasn’t made the Final Four since 2003. Interim coach Rodney Terry was an assistant on that team, and the strong-bonded Longhorns have made no secret of their love for their unassuming, raspy-voiced leader who took over in December for Chris Beard in the fallout from a since-dropped domestic violence charge.
NO ‘D’ FOR DISU
The Nittany Lions did a fine job defending a Texas team that went 13 for 23 from 3-point range in the first round, but Disu was a different story. Hailing from Pflugerville, Texas, just outside Austin, Disu joined the Longhorns last season after starting his career at Vanderbilt.
Disu, named the Most Outstanding Player of the Big 12 Tournament, is the tallest player at 6-foot-9 on this guard-dominant team. His long arms and ability to softly drop in those rainbow floaters in and around the paint, a skill he recently added to his game, make him play bigger than he is.
The Longhorns squeezed Colgate’s best-in-the-country 3-point shooting in their first-round victory, when the Raiders went 3 for 15 from long range.
Penn State presented the same perimeter threat, ranked fifth in the nation and fresh off a 13-for-23 clinic in the first-round win over Texas A&M. The Nittany Lions set the all-time single-season Big Ten record for made 3-pointers.
This Texas defense sure has some sharp teeth, though. The Longhorns held their previous five opponents, including Kansas twice and TCU, to an average of 57 points per game. Funk pulled up from the right wing for a 3-pointer just 14 seconds into the game that hit the front of the rim, a sign of how the night was going to unfold. Carr, Rice and Tyrese Hunter all took turns following him around.