Let’s be honest here. In a season dominated by stifling defense, resulting in lots of games stuck in the 50s and 60s, this was fun.
Wichita State 94, Detroit 79.
Up and down, back and forth. Shots going up at dizzying rates. It started with a reverse alley-oop dunk by Detroit’s Doug Anderson and the thrills kept coming.
I promised Wichita State point guard Demetric Williams that word would never get back to his coach, the head minister of defense Gregg Marshall, if he told he how he really felt about Saturday afternoon’s BracketBusters game at Koch Arena.
“That was fun,’’ Williams said after looking around to see whether Marshall was in earshot. “It was fun to be able to get up and down the court, playing a team that’s not used to how you play.’’
It had the look of an October pick-up game. Williams wouldn’t quite go there, but he did say: “I could see where you could get that.’’
It one first half-stretch, 16 points were scored in 72 seconds. The crowd stayed on its feet as the flurry of offense took over the game.
Detroit scored 26 points in the first six minutes of the second half and still trailed by six.
“I told the team they were on a 120-point pace,’’ Marshall said. “This reminded me of the Lakers and Showtime against the Phoenix Suns back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I wasn’t fond of that.’’
This might be the farthest I’ve gotten into a WSU column without mentioning a defensive highlight. So let’s take care of that.
Detroit’s Ray McCallum, who led all scorers with 29 points and will one day be cashing an NBA check, scored with 2:08 left to bring the Titans to within 88-79. Given the rate at which Detroit can score, the game was far from out of reach.
But – and here’s the best thing that can be said about Wichita State’s defense Saturday – the Titans did not score the rest of the way.
“I hate giving up 79,’’ Marshall said. “But I’m glad we didn’t give up 80.’’
When your team scores 94, though, a few defensive lapses are easier to stomach.
Make no mistake about it, Detroit can play. Offense, at least.
The Titans’ defense was complicit in Wichita State’s 55-percent shooting. The Shockers were able to go places on the offensive end that Missouri Valley Conference teams, who know them so well, forbid.
“That’s the beauty of BracketBusters,’’ Williams said. “This is more like a tournament game with a lot more running and up-tempo stuff. The last few years I’ve been here, every one of these games has helped determine whether we went to the (NCAA) tournament or not.’’
Count the Shockers in. They’re 24-5, climbing again in the power ratings. And their performance Saturday was sure to catch the eye of some important college basketball observers, seeing as it was televised on ESPN2 and had a high entertainment value.
Once you started watching Detroit-WSU, how could you turn away?
“Detroit’s the kind of team that you’ll see in the NCAA Tournament,’’ Marshall said. “Or at least a team like them, if not them. That’s a really good team.’’
Well, it’s a good starting five. Detroit’s problem is its depth, which took a blow when sophomore forward Juwan Howard Jr. had to sit out the game with an injured hip.
The five Detroit starters had to play a total of 181 minutes, resulting in a 32-0 Shocker edge in bench scoring.
It was difficult to tell if Detroit wore down, but its lackluster defense and 7-of-16 free-throw shooting are signs that the Titans weren’t playing on bionic legs.
It was the most points the Shockers scored against a Division I team since a 94-44 win over Chicago State on Dec. 14, 2011.
Then the question becomes: Is Chicago State a Division I team. Technically, yes.
But let’s try this: The Shockers scored the most points they’ve scored against a legitimate Division I team since Feb. 1, 2003, when the Shockers beat Southern Illinois at Koch Arena 94-59.
Sorry, Maryland-Eastern Shore (102 points in 2006) or Texas-Pan American (97 in 2005) aren’t legit.
Detroit is legit, an 18-10 team out of the Horizon League that could be a higher-seeded team’s nightmare in the NCAA Tournament.
The Titans gave Wichita State a game. A fun, wild game.
Now it’s back to the Valley grind for the Shockers, who have two games left to try and wrap up their second straight championship.
The last BracketBusters game WSU played was a great escape.