ST. LOUIS — Is Wichita State the Missouri Valley Conference’s villain? Do the Shockers wear the black hat? Is there something at work here — conscious or unconscious — to make sure WSU is kept down?
Gregg Marshall, Wichita State’s basketball coach, had a few choice words during Saturday’s news conference following the Shockers’ 65-64 loss to Illinois State in the semifinals of the MVC Tournament at the Scottrade Center. Then, when he encountered Valley commissioner Doug Elgin outside the Shockers’ locker room, he had a few more.
As Marshall was heading into the locker room, Elgin told him to stop saying what he was saying, then went down the hallway to have a 15-minute conversation with WSU athletic director Eric Sexton and assistant AD Darron Boatright.
Later, Elgin insisted he wasn’t angry when he addressed Marshall, despite appearances. But as Marshall left the dressing room to get on the team bus after another too-early exit, he turned and glared at two of Elgin’s assistants, Mike Kern and Jack Watkins.
It was reminiscent of the Shockers’ loss here to Creighton in the 2009 semifinals, when Marshall and the Valley were at odds over the management of the game clock as Creighton’s Booker Woodfox made a jumper at the buzzer to beat WSU.
After Saturday’s unexpected loss, Marshall and players Garrett Stutz, Joe Ragland and Toure Murry went to the interview room ahead of Illinois State’s coach and players, who were supposed to be first.
Marshall didn’t attack the Valley on the podium, at least not directly. But his hints weren’t subtle. When he was asked about the strangeness of the Shockers’ continuing struggles in St. Louis — they have played in one championship game since the tournament was moved here in 1991 — he veered in another direction.
“I saw some strange things today,’’ he said. “That’s your word and I’ll go with that. It’s pretty tough to win when you see some strange things like I saw today.
“I’m looking forward to going and playing on a neutral court. I like my chances.’’
The insinuation there — if you can call something so obvious an insinuation — is that Marshall does not feel like the Valley tournament provides the Shockers with a neutral court.
There were some questionable calls, no doubt. Marshall was surprised, to put it mildly, about a technical foul called on Stutz after he got mixed up inside with Illinois State’s John Wilkins with 11:59 to play. Wilkins also was assessed a technical, his second, which resulted in his ejection. But it was also Stutz’s fourth foul.
Ragland looked like he had been fouled by Jackie Carmichael on a drive into the lane with about 5:18 left, but no whistle was blown.
And in the final 40 seconds or so, an out-of-bounds call went Illinois State’s way, a call that was vehemently disputed by Murry and Marshall, who thought the ball deflected off an ISU player’s leg. The replay showed the ball touched Illinois State’s Tyler Brown. It was a big play and Marshall and Murry were correct to be incensed.
The officials whistled 21 fouls on the Shockers and 16 on Illinois State. There were calls made against the Redbirds that were disputed by their coach, Tim Jankovich. Illinois State shot 22 free throws (and made 20) to Wichita State’s 17.
Were calls blown? Of course. Did they help decide the game? In a one-point game, probably.
Does the Missouri Valley Conference have it out for the Shockers?
That’s where the disconnect is for me. I don’t see it and can’t fathom how it would work. I would love for someone to explain it to me.
Elgin, in his 24th season with the Valley, downplayed the exchange he had with Marshall.
“I don’t think it was a spat,” he said. “I wasn’t mad. It’s emotional. It’s an emotional basketball game. I can understand a coach being upset after losing a game like that. I was not angry. If I looked angry, I wasn’t angry. I was feeling emotion, too.”
I was not as struck by poor officiating as I was by the Shockers’ inability to make shots. After shooting 53.7 percent from the field and 47.2 percent from the three-point line in its seven previous games, WSU made 34.9 percent of its shots against the young Redbirds and was 7 of 23 from the three-point line.
The Shockers never got into an offensive rhythm. Even when they built a nice first-half cushion and held Illinois State without a field goal for more than 12 minutes, there was a feeling in the building that this game wouldn’t be easy.
It never was. It was sluggish and physical and hard. There could have been more fouls called, but don’t most teams like it when they’re allowed to play?
Are you going to try and tell me the MVC didn’t want its best team, Wichita State, to face its second-best team, Creighton, in today’s nationally-televised championship game? Or that the Valley has it out for the team most likely to line the conference’s pockets with money in the NCAA Tournament?
There might be some kind of ancient hex that’s put on the Shockers every time they enter the St. Louis city limits. Wichita State’s lack of success here might have something to do with the occult, for all I know.
But I do know the Valley isn’t out to get Wichita State. To believe anything else is a big reach.