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Bob Lutz: Ragland answers call in WSU's big win

  • Published Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011, at 8:39 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012, at 7:31 a.m.

On its first two offensive possessions, UNLV got the ball inside to 6-foot-10 Brice Massamba. The first time, he dunked over Wichita State's Garrett Stutz. The second time he made an easy lay-in.

And just like that it was 4-0, Runnin' Rebels, less than a minute into Sunday's game at Koch Arena.

The Shocker player most responsible for making those first four points so easy, apparently, was senior guard Joe Ragland, who failed to react properly to UNLV ball screens. It was Ragland who was pulled from the game by an angry WSU coach, Gregg Marshall, who first stared a hole through Ragland, then filled that hole with hot sauce.

And when Marshall was finished, Shocker assistant Chris Jans got in his tongue lashing at Ragland, screaming in a way that made his ears red.

It was not the kind of start Ragland was hoping for.

But then there were the other 39 minutes. And Ragland was magnificent in every one of them.

Has a Wichita State guard ever had a better day in such a big game?

Let's start with Ragland's 31 points. But more impressive than that is the way he went about getting them. Ragland made 9 of 12 shots and was eight of nine from the three-point line.

Eight of nine. And the one he missed teased the cylinder until it blushed.

He played 35 minutes without committing a turnover. He had five rebounds and three assists and, like every Shocker player and coach, shook his head in disbelief at the ease with which WSU dispatched of the 18th-ranked Rebels, 89-70.

The same Rebels who made then-No. 1 North Carolina look average in a Nov. 26 tournament game in Las Vegas. The same Rebels who were 8-0 going into Sunday's game.

It was a 9-0 run midway through the first half that pulled the Shockers from an 18-18 tie to a 27-18 lead that made the biggest difference. And that stretch started with the second of Ragland's eight three-pointers, just one fewer than Jason Perez's WSU record.

What a game by the Shockers. And what a game from Ragland, who was starting to worry about his three-point stroke, so much so that he had spent extra time in the gym working on knocking down shots.

"Now the confidence level is there,'' Ragland said. "You never feel it 100 percent until you start making them in games.''

Ragland was one of four Shockers in double figures and those four — Carl Hall (17), Garrett Stutz (13) and Toure Murry (11) were the others — combined to make 26 of 40 shots as the Shockers shot 59.3 percent for the game against a UNLV team that had limited opponents to just under 40 percent shooting.

But the Shockers' defense didn't take a back seat.

One of the keys to beating UNLV, the Shocker coaches preached to players this week, was defending the Rebels' intricate and effective ball screens. That's what Ragland didn't do on the Rebels' first two possessions and it's what landed him in a firestorm of Marshall-Jans verbal barrages.

"We had our game plan and it was to ice the ball screens and I didn't ice the first one,'' Ragland said. "Nor the second one.''

There was nothing subtle about the reaction on the Shocker bench. Ragland, after getting chewed out by Marshall, took a seat next to Jans, the Shocker assistant who prepared the UNLV game plan.

"Coach Jans definitely has a passion for the game,'' Ragland said. "He's so into it; he's basically our hype man. He was on me the whole time about icing those ball screens. He was right on me.''

When Ragland re-entered the game after just a couple of minutes, his focus never wavered. It's telling that Massamba scored only two other baskets in the game.

"I think I need to do that more with Joe,'' Marshall said of the early benching of Ragland. "Especially if the results are 31 points. The kid played an unbelievable game.''

Ragland started the season by making two of his first 10 three-point shots, but he had a breakthrough last week against Cal State Fullerton, hitting three of four and scoring 15 points. It was only the second time in six games that he was in double figures, a disappointing start to what was expected to be a strong senior season.

"Everybody knows Joe can really shoot,'' Murry said. "Tonight was his night. He's been in the gym working on his shot and it paid off. We're not surprised.''

Well, maybe just a little.

"I didn't expect this kind of a game from Joe,'' Marshall said. "But I have expected some games from him that are similar to this. Maybe 20 points, 23 points. He's just a dynamite performer in practice and he took it upon himself today to bounce back from those missed defensive assignments early in the game.''

It wasn't just Ragland. either. The Shockers had a breakthrough game, the kind of game Marshall has been waiting for.

Wichita State played like a Top 10 team Sunday and was rewarded with a win that will look good on its NCAA Tournament at-large resume in March.

"I was wondering when it was going to happen,'' Marshall said.

Well, it happened.

Check sports columnist Bob Lutz's blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz. Reach him at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com.

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