INDIANAPOLIS – As the Wichita State band played and the cheerleaders locked arms, facing the team’s cheering section, chins quivered. Tears started to fall. Two shots had been blocked, a great NCAA tournament game had been lost, 65-62, and the Shockers’ souls were ripped out for the second time in the second round by Kentucky.
The world’s best No. 10 seed had played with scant skill but voluminous grit, waging a fierce battle with the Wildcats. Down seven with just more than three minutes to play, they rallied resolutely. Facing a team stacked with NBA talent, a bunch of guys who weren’t recruited by Kentucky were close enough to grab a statement victory.
And it eluded them. Ultimately, the future pros rose up and played like pros with the game on the line, while the Shockers hit their second-round ceiling.
At the very end, they looked scared of the moment. Faced with the prospect of making a defining play against superior athleticism and talent, they shrank a bit. They looked like five guys who wanted someone else to take the big shot.
Down by a point and in possession of the ball with 40 seconds to play, the Shockers dithered. They dribbled tentatively around the perimeter, they passed without great purpose, they hemmed and hawed. Coach Gregg Marshall was out of timeouts, which doesn’t happen often, so he couldn’t take control of the situation. Point guard Landry Shamet is a freshman and finally played like one, after performing brilliantly all game.
Finally, with the clock draining to less than 15 seconds, Markis McDuffie rose for a 3-point shot. Somebody had to do something, but that wasn’t the best choice.
“I think we could have put more pressure on them by driving,” Marshall said. “… He elected to pull the trigger there, so that wasn’t great, to say the least.”
McDuffie is listed as 6-foot-8. Malik Monk, listed 6-foot-3, soared to contest. He stuffed the shot before it could even leave McDuffie’s right hand, then corralled it and was fouled with 10.4 seconds left. Monk swished both free throws, and Wichita had one last chance to tie the game with a three.
Shamet brought the ball upcourt and again looked tentative. Marshall said the plan was for Shamet to pass, but he moved off a screen onto the wing and there was no time left for passing. Shamet pump-faked to get defender Dominique Hawkins off the ground, then went up – and here came Kentucky’s Bam Adebayo to erase the shot and end the game and end Wichita’s season.
Three years ago, No. 1 seed and undefeated Wichita watched a Fred VanVleet three miss at the buzzer of a second-round game against Kentucky. At least that one got to the rim, carrying the Shockers’ hopes and dreams with it through the air before thudding off. This time the last shot(s) never got that far.
Marshall took the initial blame for the lack of execution in the postgame news conference. Then Shamet said, no, he should get the blame as the point guard. There was one other opinion aired in the Wichita postgame news conference, while Shamet was talking about the final seconds.
“He got fouled,” said Marshall’s wife, Lynn, quite audibly.
She was wearing a Wichita State jersey and sitting among reporters. It’s become fairly standard for some members of a team’s entourage to sit in on postgame news conferences – silently. Popping off about the officiating during one is a bit much.
Lynn Marshall had just made a spectacle of herself for two hours, boisterously cheering for the Shockers and against the Wildcats and sometimes against the refs, too. This was standard operating procedure during games for Mrs. Marshall, as anyone in the Missouri Valley Conference will tell you. There are plenty of intense wives of coaches in college basketball, but she might be the most intense.
The Shockers’ motto is “Play Angry.” Lynn Marshall’s might as well be “Cheer Angry.”
(Although, I will say, two hours of sitting directly in front of Lynn Marshall is not as hard on the ears as two hours sitting in front of the Jacksonville State fans Friday afternoon. Those people have no chill with the refs.)
With the season over, Wichita can continue its plans to leave the Missouri Valley for another conference, most likely the American Athletic. It will give the Shockers a significant upgrade in strength of schedule and profile, which would seemingly end the days of being criminally under-seeded.
This team had no business being a No. 10 seed, as it showed through 80 hard-edged minutes in Indianapolis. They prevailed over Dayton on Friday, and once again came within a shot of taking down Kentucky.
“How many years do we have to do this to make people respect our program?” Marshall asked. “I don’t know. That’s up to you guys [the media].
“This will just be more fuel for us. Basically … we’ve got everybody back [for 2017-18]. So it really doesn’t matter what other people think, to be honest. It matters what we think, and we can’t change people’s perception of our program. We can’t change people’s perception of the Missouri Valley Conference or the talent level.
“We sleep really well at night knowing what we have and what we continue to prove and what we continue to do as a program. And if we get a break or two, and another shot goes down, maybe we’re advancing, maybe we win the whole thing. I mean, that’s possible. So that will be our goal next year.”
Next year, Wichita State could be a top 10 team – not a No. 10 seed. The question is whether Kentucky will be lurking to deliver another soul-crushing loss.
More March Madness coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Protesters fly Confederate flag next to NCAA tournament arena in Greenville
• John Beilein comes equipped with super soaker for Michigan’s postgame celebration
• Watch Louisville’s Deng Adel throw down a dunk of the tournament candidate
• Northwestern crying kid on a roller coaster of emotions during loss to Gonzaga
After 39 minutes of grit, Wichita State shrinks in crunch time in emotional loss to Kentucky – Yahoo Sports