DES MOINES, Iowa — 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 Sweet 16 in 15 years with a 71-66 victory in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night.
The No. 2 seed Longhorns (28-8) were just 1 for 13 from 3-point land, so Disu turned this into a mid-range game. He went 5 for 5 over the last 4 1/2 minutes and grabbed 10 rebounds for good measure.
“We’ve never played against a big man with that type of touch,” Penn State’s Seth Lundy said. “I don’t remember him missing, not one floater. He would do it from 10 feet, 15 feet, 5 feet.”
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.
“A lot of my shots I took one dribble on, so that means my teammates had to find me first,” said Disu, who has family in Iowa and had several close relatives watching him at Wells Fargo Arena. “Credit to them and credit to the coaches for putting me in positions to score.”
Camren Wynter had 16 points for the No. 10 seed Nittany Lions (23-14), who were coming off their first NCAA Tournament victory in 20 years as the capstone of rising star coach Micah Shrewsberry’s second season.
“These are my guys forever, because they took a chance on me,” said Shrewsberry, with red-eyed seniors Lundy, Myles Dread and Jalen Pickett next to him at the podium.
Second-team All-American Jalen Pickett had 11 points and 10 rebounds with seven turnovers for Penn State. Andrew Funk (12 points) and 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.
Then the Nittany Lions responded with a 10-0 run. Myles Dread 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.
Marcus 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 a 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 Longhorns have made no secret of their love for their unassuming, raspy-voiced leader who took over for Chris Beard in December. Beard was suspended and later fired over a since-dropped domestic violence charge.
“What they’ve had to go through, these guys have been amazing,” Terry said.
NO ‘D’ FOR DISU
Hailing from Pflugerville, Texas, just outside Austin, Disu joined the Longhorns last season after starting his career at Vanderbilt.
Disu, 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 rainbow floaters in and around the paint — a skill he recently added to his game — make him play bigger than he is.
“Our game plan offensively was to really own the paint,” Terry said.
Disu’s scoring in an NCAA Tournament game was the most for Texas since Kevin Durant had 30 points in 2007, and the NBA star was watching from afar, tweeting his praise.
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 its first-round win over Texas A&M. The Nittany Lions set the single-season Big Ten record for 3-pointers.
This Texas defense has some teeth, though. Funk pulled up from the right wing for a 3-point try 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 took turns following Funk around after he went 8 for 10 from deep on Thursday.