- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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SALT LAKE CITY -- When Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen knocked down two foul shots with 10 seconds left in regulation against Xavier on Thursday night, he thought the Wildcats had finally put the Musketeers away for good.
"I'm thinking, 'That's game. That's the nail in the coffin,'" Pullen said.
When Pullen made a layup with 33 seconds left at the end of the first overtime, he thought the game was finally over and the Wildcats were headed to the Elite Eight.
Not until Pullen made two 3-pointers and two foul shots in the final 1 minute, 11 seconds of a second overtime did No. 2-seeded Kansas State finally pull away for a 101-96 victory over Xavier in the West Regional semifinals at EnergySolutions Arena.
Kansas State will play No. 5-seeded Butler in Saturday's regional final, with the winner advancing to next week's Final Four in Indianapolis.
"That's March basketball at its finest right there," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. "That's two teams refusing to give in and refusing for their seasons to end. I expected it to be a hard-fought game. I didn't expect it to be like this. They were phenomenal and our guys were pretty good, too."
In one of the more remarkable finishes in recent NCAA tournament -- and in a game that even upstaged Butler's 63-59 upset of No. 1-seeded Syracuse in the earlier semifinal -- the Wildcats traded blows with the Musketeers for 50 minutes.
It was the first double-overtime game in the Sweet 16 since Minnesota defeated Clemson 90-84 in 1997.
"It was a classic," said Pullen, who finished with 28 points in 40 minutes. "It was two teams who didn't want their seasons to end. Every time we thought the game was over, we would walk to the line and you could see it in their eyes that they didn't want the game to end, either."
From the final media timeout with 7:08 remaining in the second half until KSU's final two free throws with 12 seconds left in double OT, no team led by more than four points. In the OT periods alone, there were six lead changes and six more ties.
The Wildcats, who led by as many as 15 points in the first half, had a great chance to end the game in regulation. Pullen's 3-pointer with 26 seconds left put K-State ahead by a 70-67 score. He knocked down two foul shots to make it 72-69 with 10 seconds to go.
Martin told his team to foul the Musketeers' ball-handler once he crossed midcourt. Kansas State's Denis Clemente tried to foul Terrell Holloway as he brought the ball across midcourt, but officials didn't blow their whistles. Instead, they called a foul on senior Chris Merriewether as Holloway threw up a desperation 3-pointer.
"We did exactly what we've done every time we've been in that situation," Martin said. "We've done the same thing in that situation as long as I've been the coach here. Denis basically had the guy in a bear hug at halfcourt and they decided to let him play through that. The foul on the 3-point shot was the correct call and that was a breakdown on our part."
Holloway made the Wildcats pay for their mistake, as he made all three foul shots to tie the score at 72 with five seconds to play. Pullen missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer, sending the game into overtime.
Kansas State took a 78-74 lead with 2:46 left to play in overtime, but the Musketeers came right back. Over the next seven minutes, the teams traded blow after blow. There were five ties and neither team had a lead of more than three points until the Wildcats pulled away at the very end in double overtime.
"I felt like tonight was eerily similar to Ali-Foreman, and they landed the last punch, unfortunately," Xavier coach Chris Mack said. "It was as good of a game as I've coached, been a part of. Both teams battled, believed they were going to win. Unfortunately, only one team is allowed to."
Pullen's layup gave Kansas State an 86-84 lead with 33 seconds to go in the first overtime. Merriewether made one of two foul shots to make it 87-84 with 19 seconds to go. Then Xavier guard Jordan Crawford drilled a 3-pointer from 32 feet to tie the score at 87.
"I've been watching Crawford play for a long time," Martin said. "I don't care where he's at. When he's playing well, he'll shoot it from anywhere. Give him credit."
Crawford finished with 32 points on 13-for-29 shooting.
He was only upstaged by Pullen, whose 3-pointer gave the Wildcats a 97-94 lead with 32 seconds to go in the second overtime. Pullen made two foul shots to make it 99-96 with 24 seconds left, and then Xavier's Dante' Jackson missed a 3-pointer with 13 seconds to play.
Game over -- finally.
"I was just hoping Crawford didn't make one of those 3-pointers from halfcourt," Pullen said.
The Wildcats have less than 48 hours to recover before they play Butler for a trip to the Final Four, an event no KSU team has played in since 1964. Martin planned to stay up early Friday morning to scout the Bulldogs. The Wildcats will have a light practice Friday afternoon, but Martin is more worried about his players getting their legs back before Saturday.
Clemente played 48 minutes, scoring 25 points with five rebounds and five assists.
"We can't get after these guys tomorrow," Martin said. "We have to coach them through their minds."
At least Martin doesn't have to worry about his players' guts. They answered the bell every time Xavier tried to knock them down on Thursday night.
"It took a lot of courage for our guys to stay the course, especially after what happened at the end of regulation and overtime," Martin said.
It's what March Madness is all about.
"When it gets down to the last few games, nobody wants their season to end," Pullen said.