NIT gives Hatch second shot at memorable senior ending
NEW YORK — Graham Hatch didn't have the best regular season for Wichita State. He was as scrappy as ever — Shocker coach Gregg Marshall has called Hatch the hardest-working player he's ever coached — but Hatch's shot wasn't falling.
And when a shooter isn't shooting well, everything seems off.
But a second season has given Hatch a second chance to finish off his senior season with a bang. And, through three NIT games leading up to tonight's semifinal against Washington State at Madison Square Garden, he's making the most of it.
"It's definitely been gratifying,'' Hatch said. "I've been able to knock down more shots in these NIT games than I have been. It's nice to know I've been able to help the team out more with offense and with shooting better.''
The 6-foot-4 Hatch is averaging just more than 11 points in the Shockers' NIT wins over Nebraska, Virginia Tech and College of Charleston. Better yet, he's made 11 of 20 shots and 7 of 13 three-pointers.
Hatch is one of those guys who looks great shooting the ball, but has gotten only marginal results during his Shocker career. Lately, though, those shots are falling.
"It's frustrating when they don't,'' he said. "And this season it just seems like I haven't been getting a lot of open looks. Playing this NIT, though, we've been playing non-conference teams so they don't maybe scout us as well as (Missouri Valley Conference) teams do.''
That might also be benefiting junior guard Toure Murry, who has played great in the NIT after struggling late in the regular season and especially in the MVC Tournament in St. Louis.
Hatch got most of the minutes at the small forward spot for WSU early, but as the season went on, junior college transfer Ben Smith worked his way into a platoon situation. Smith was making the shots Hatch was missing, and he also provided more athleticism.
But what no Shocker can match is Hatch's intensity and the way he'll sacrifice his body by getting on the floor for loose balls.
"With Coach Marshall, it's a matter of whoever is making shots, making plays, is going to play,'' Hatch said. "Coach is not biased, he doesn't have his favorites. If you're producing, you're going to be on the court. That's actually comforting to me because I know if I'm not making shots then he's going to put Ben in there and Ben's been very good.''
All of the Shockers have been very good during this NIT run, which has helped erase the memories of a maddening loss to Indiana State, a team the Shockers had been twice during the regular season, in the semifinals of the Valley tournament.
That defeat sent the WSU players into an emotional spiral, so much so that Marshall left up to them as to whether they even wanted to play in the NIT.
"The Indiana State loss kind of felt like an out-of-body experience,'' Hatch said. "It was hard for me to believe that we actually lost. I had a hard time taking it in because I had so much belief that we were going to win.''
Even Hatch needed a couple of days to accept that the NIT was going to be the Shockers' only option.
"We came together as a team and talked about what we wanted to do,'' he said. "We made a promise to get better and work on things as a team. I needed some time to recharge my battery but I think we all knew we didn't want the season to end like that. We thought the best way we could redeem what season we had left was to do well in this NIT and that's kind of the mindset we had.''
Hatch never imagined it would be this much fun.
Shocker fans, of course, have been wildly supportive during this postseason run. A loud sell-out crowd showed up at Koch Arena for WSU's win over College of Charleston last Wednesday and it wouldn't be surprising to see a couple of hundred or more in Madison Square Garden tonight.
"With every win you feel better, more confident,'' Hatch said. "If feel's like we're accomplishing something.''
And while nobody will confuse the NIT with the NCAA Tournament, which all of the Shocker players thought was their destination, it's turning out to be a great consolation prize. The opportunity to play in MSG, the Mecca of basketball, is exciting for all.
"It's been a little overwhelming, so much better than I thought,'' Hatch said. "The day of that College of Charleston game, I was in a store and I had six people come up to me that I didn't know wishing me luck. I've never had that happen before.
"And now we get to play in Madison Square Garden. It's been an accomplishment to get there. It's been great.''Check sports columnist Bob Lutz's blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz. Reach him at 316-268-6597 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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