Baylor guard LaceDarius Dunn celebrates after dunking against Sam Houston State in first-round game in New Orleans. Baylor won 68-59.
While the standout high school players from Louisiana were being recruited by other established programs, they still went to Baylor when coach Scott Drew could only offer an opportunity and a vision of what the future might hold for the Bears.
Now they are one victory from the NCAA Final Four.
Dunn and Carter got the third-seeded Bears rolling early, each hitting 3-pointers on their first shots and then combining on a highlight alley-oop dunk, and Baylor routed surprising Saint Mary's 72-49 on Friday night. Next up is top-seeded Duke in the South Regional final Sunday.
"That's the reason why we came here. To be a part of something special," Carter said. "It really means a lot to me, this team, this program, for us to come through all the adversity."
That tragic summer nearly seven years ago is finally starting to seem like a long time ago, though the significance of Baylor's success under Drew will always be related to where they have come since he took over a tattered program at the world's largest Baptist university.
After the murder of a player by a teammate and the ensuing scandal that led to former coach Dave Bliss' resignation, it was left to Drew to rebuild with reduced scholarships and a roster decimated when the top three scorers were allowed to transfer. There was even an unprecedented half-season after the NCAA considered shutting the program down a whole year.
"It's a good step for us, hopefully we can take a couple of more," said Josh Lomers, the only senior other than Carter on the roster.
Picked 10th in the preseason Big 12 poll by the league's coaches last fall, Baylor is one of eight teams still in the hunt for a national championship. The only other Big 12 team in that mix is Kansas State, not Kansas or Texas -- the league's two teams that reached No. 1 during the season.
Dunn scored 23 points with four 3-pointers while Carter had 14 points, three assists, a steal and no turnovers. Ekpe Udoh, the difference-maker in the middle, had eight points and 11 rebounds.
The third-seeded Bears (28-7) led 46-17 at halftime and could begin looking ahead to playing for a chance at their first Final Four since 1950, when there were only eight teams in the field.
That meant an abrupt end to what had been an entertaining NCAA ride by Saint Mary's (28-6), the tiny school from Moraga, Calif., and senior center Omar Samhan, the breakout star in the tournament with his dominating play in the first two rounds and the one-liners when talking or tweeting.
"I've never been more proud of anything in my life than this team and this coaching staff," Samhan said. "So didn't matter how it ended. "
After making only 1 of 8 shots with only three points by halftime in the lowest-scoring half of the season by Saint Mary's, Samhan finished with 15 points and nine rebounds.
Ben Allen had 16 points to lead the Gaels, who shot only 35 percent (19 of 54). They were 6 of 22 from long range after being one of the nation's best teams on 3-pointers all season.
"We've had a great year. I'm proud of these guys," coach Randy Bennett said. "You wish it would have gone different in this game. We didn't have our A-game tonight, and no excuse for that. Just that's the way it happened."
The Gaels lost Patty Mills to the NBA and five other seniors from a 28-win team last season. Their only NCAA victory had been in 1959 before beating Richmond and Villanova last week.
Carter hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key on his first shot, then Dunn made one on the next Baylor possession.
Their highlight play came when Dunn had a steal near midcourt and took off toward the basket. Dunn passed the ball to Carter trailing on his left, and the point guard never dribbled the ball, instead tossing it toward the rim for a slam and a 29-11 lead.
After landing on the floor, Dunn turned toward the crowd predominantly filled with fans dressed in green and gold and flashed a big smile.
"It's like a home game," Udoh said. "We just have to keep this up."