Winning under those circumstances required a big lead to work with, some good defense and more than a little luck.
"We're no different than a lot of teams. We think you win with defense," coach John Giannini said after the 63-61 final. "We kept challenging our guys defensively. Just telling them, 'We'll be all right. If we get some stops, we'll be all right.' That was the message."
It must have been received because Kansas State, which rallied from 18 points down at halftime, suddenly stopped scoring when it mattered most. The Wildcats scored 34 points in the first 15 minutes of the second half and one point in the final five minutes.
That's the only way to survive when your own offense shuts down: Shut down the other guy.
"Every time out, every time we came in, he was riding us . . . telling us we had to get defensive stops. I don't know how much we were up, but we had a good margin," senior Ramon Galloway said. "They came back and actually took the lead. We had to stick together and dig down deep to get stops. Just talking about defense, we went out there and performed."
The lead was actually as big as 19 points in the first half, but the margin of 18 at the half should have been formidable enough. And it was until Kansas State, blistered by coach Bruce Weber at halftime, scored on 16 of its first 20 possessions in the second half by banging to the inside and getting every roll the Wildcats didn't get in the first half.
Kansas State caught the Explorers, and took the lead - twice. The last time, at 60-58, should have crushed La Salle. Their lead was gone, their momentum was gone, their storybook return to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 21 years was almost gone.
"You don't make it this far without three things: being talented, having luck . . . and being mentally tough," Giannini said. "When you list all the things you have to do . . . it's amazing that you do make it so far because so many things have to go right."
Those things started to go right again for La Salle in the last five minutes and just enough of them fell that way for the win. Kansas State had good shots that rimmed out. The Wildcats had point-blank layups that caught iron and were coughed out by the basket. They missed the front end of a 1-and-1 attempt and the back end of another.
At the very finish, with Weber frantically trying to call timeout, Kansas State point guard Angel Rodriguez dribbled himself into the corner, tried to turn onto the baseline and ran directly into Sam Mills of La Salle. Rodriguez had to attempt a bad shot and - even though bad shots sometimes go - this one didn't.
La Salle had won, and gets to play again. From the outside, for a program that has gone missing so long, two wins is a great accomplishment and maybe accomplishment enough. It doesn't look that way from the inside.
"No, we're not playing with house money. That's not the way we ever would think," Giannini said. "We want to win every game we play. We never think, 'OK, we don't have to win that game.' "
They haven't done enough yet, and, incredible as it seems, will get a chance to do more on Sunday. For two decades, they have chronicled their own failures. Now they get to chronicle success a while longer.
Contact columnist Bob Ford at email@example.com. Follow @bobfordsports on Twitter.