Wichita State’s three recent losses in a row all came under different circumstances, but Shocker forward Carl Hall can sum them up with one explanation.
“Basketball is all about rhythm, man,” he said. “Once somebody knocks you off your rhythm, you’ve got to find your steps again.”
The Shockers found it again – did they ever – in a 79-50 home victory over Missouri State on Saturday. They improved their record to 20-5, and thanks to Creighton’s loss, are tied for first place in the Missouri Valley Conference at 9-4.
Just like that, the Shockers are thinking about an NCAA Tournament berth again.
How did they do it?
- Shocker coach Gregg Marshall said it may have started with individual meetings he had with the team’s seniors. Hall, who’s one of them, said Marshall’s message was a simple one about leadership.
- A less subtle message was delivered to the entire team by a group of former Shocker greats led by Xavier McDaniel and Antoine Carr. “They basically said, ‘play angry,’” Marshall said. “Our guys, they may look menacing and they may look tough …. Unfortunately, they’re a little too nice at times. They haven’t gotten angry enough at times. Maybe that’s the point that needed to be made.”
- Marshall had assistant coach Chris Jans show the team a highlight tape from some of the Shockers’ best victories earlier this season. “It was pretty evident we had lost a little something,” Marshall said. “Not only did we stop scoring, but it affected us on the defensive end and the rebounding end. That’s a problem.”
It wasn’t Saturday night. The Shockers had four players score in double figures and shot 49.2 percent as a team. They held MSU to 31.4 percent. They out-rebounded the Bears 47-22.
“The intensity was there tonight,” Hall said. “There was definitely a sense of urgency. Everybody had their head on a swivel.”
It showed, said MSU coach Paul Lusk.
“When you’re got a good team and you’re trying win a conference championship and you’re trying to come off three losses, you’re going to be sharper in everything that you do,” said Lusk, whose team fell to 7-18 and 5-8 in the Valley. “… Even if they’re coming off wins and feeling good about themselves, they have personnel we don’t have – period.”
Four minutes into the game, Demetric Williams made a three-pointer that put WSU ahead 11-9. The Shockers led from that point on, building a 17-point lead in the first half.
“We had no answers anywhere for them,” Lusk said.
Cleanthony Early led WSU with 16 points, Nick Wiggins scored 11 and Tekele Cotton and Malcolm Armstead added 10 apiece.
“It’s a fresh start,” said Hall, who scored nine. “Everybody’s happy; everybody’s smiling and has a pep in their step. Before, it was like there was a death in the family. Everybody was all sad. When you lose, things aren’t good around here. So it was a must win.”
And had the Shockers lost?
“That wasn’t an option,” Hall replied.Talking Twitter
– Marshall doesn’t have a Twitter account, but nonetheless said he understood what was “trending” about WSU on the social media site.
“The fact of the matter is, we were 19-5,” Marshall said. “That’s the body of work. But 0-3 was the trend. So that’s all anybody wanted to talk about.”
Then Marshall himself went on to talk about it.
“You can’t make trades, you can’t put anybody on waivers, and hopefully Wichita State’s not going to fire me in the middle of the year,” Marshall said. “So we’re stuck with one another, for better or worse. That’s a group that’s won 80 percent of its games this year, and they’re feeling like crap (before Saturday).”Well, that backfired
- Lusk said he was hoping a zone defense would throw the Shockers off in the first half, since they hadn’t been shooting well during the slump.
Then, of course, the Shockers made seven 3-pointers in the first half, on 11 attempts.
“And they got inside versus the zone,” Lusk said. “When they do that, you’re in trouble.”Tweaking the lineup
- Ehimen Orukpe re-gained his starting spot at center on Saturday, and responded with 10 rebounds.
Meanwhile, Early came off the bench to lead the Shockers in scoring.
“It’s fine with me if I can give the team a spark that way,” Early said.