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Bob Lutz: Shocker seniors are aging gracefully

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011, at 12:04 a.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011, at 7:13 a.m.

TULSA — In this age of the one-and-done college basketball star, whose flame burns brightly then quickly disappears, there's something special about a team full of seniors.

You don't see that kind of team when you watch Kentucky or Duke or North Carolina. And experience does matter — it's the biggest reason why VCU crashed the Final Four last season and why Butler has been in two consecutive national championship games.

Wichita State has five seniors in key roles. And though they had to be prodded some by their coach, Gregg Marshall, on Wednesday night, they also did some of the prodding themselves. It resulted in a great defensive second half, the key in a 77-67 win over Tulsa.

These Shocker seniors — guards Toure Murry, David Kyles and Joe Ragland, forward Ben Smith and center Garrett Stutz — weren't alive when the fuel of the Tulsa-Wichita State rivalry was producing fire in the 1980s.

Wednesday night's game was played in front of fewer than 5,000 and the Golden Hurricane has for several years occupied a spot in college basketball's background.

But for a half, Tulsa was the aggressor. The Hurricane went up by eight points late in the first half and led 41-37 at halftime.

During the break, the Shocker coaches occupied a media rest room next door to the WSU locker room. I know because I was waiting outside, tapping my feet. They were in there for about five minutes before storming into the locker room with red faces and sharp tongues.

"We prodded them, sure we did,'' Marshall said. "When (Tulsa) gets 41 points in a half, that's not good defense for us. And we gave up 26 in the second half. I was pleased with our defense in the second half but it took some work tonight to get them going.''

Some of those seniors took out their prods, too. And the team on the floor in the second half didn't resemble the one in the first half that seemed to be lulled to sleep by a relatively quiet crowd that was nothing like the venom-spitting Tulsa crowds of yesteryear.

In fact, for much of the game, the 400 or so Shocker fans did more to add to the atmosphere than the Tulsa supporters.

Wichita State used its fans to manufacture energy and did so with full-court pressure and some intense trapping once the Hurricane crossed the half-court line. After shooting 50 percent from the field in the first half, Tulsa cooled to 35 percent in the second, making only seven field goals.

Murry, Kyles, Ragland and Smith created most of the defensive havoc, pushing the game into a faster pace that threw off Tulsa's offense.

"Being a senior, you really have a lot more responsibility to the team,'' said Murry, who made a splash as a freshman with some big game-winning shots but has found more consistency with age. "You have a little more leeway with Coach Marshall and a chance to help change the game. And I feel like I helped change the game tonight.''

Murry was one of six Shockers to score in double figures, leading the way with 17 points. No Wichita State player took more than nine shots.

Murry, Ragland, Kyles and Smith combined to play 68 of a possible 80 minutes in the second half. They were seniors who played like seniors. They weren't going to allow Wichita State to lose.

"Being a senior, I know for one thing you appreciate your team and your teammates more,'' Kyles said. "When you first get to college you're trying to find out where you fit on the team and there's a lot of competition. But as you get older you learn to appreciate how valuable your teammates really are to you in games.''

As Marshall raged at halftime, some seniors joined in. It was obvious the Shockers weren't singing Christmas carols.

That's one of the great things about seniors. They get their coach and their coach gets them. He knows the right buttons to push and the seniors know what to do when those buttons are engaged.

"A couple of seniors actually helped get this team rallied up,'' Kyles said. "We promised to pick it up on the defensive end. That's something we have pride in.''

Murry, whose demeanor rarely boils over, says he is comfortable with a leadership role on this team. As the Shockers pulled closer and closer in the second half against Tulsa, it was Murry who pulled out the whip.

"I'm more vocal now,'' he said. "Over the years I've watched the older guys like J.T. Durley and Clevin Hannah become more vocal in their senior years. Those guys in our locker room respect me and they know that I want to win and that I'll do whatever it takes.''

That's the beauty of having seniors. They know what it takes.

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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