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Armstead easily handles first-game tournament pressure

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, March 21, 2013, at 5:25 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, May 1, 2013, at 5:30 p.m.

— Shortly after Malcolm Armstead stepped away from the postgame news conference following Wichita State’s 73-55 win over Pittsburgh in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the senior point guard was swarmed by television reporters armed with cameras pointed directly at him.

When that was over, a radio producer handed Armstead a cell phone for a national interview.

Armstead handled it all as calmly and gracefully as he did his first tournament game.

The Shockers’ on-court leader exhibited the same traits with which he guided WSU during the regular season and in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. He eased himself into the game by helping others flourish early, then took over late to finish with a game-high 22 points.

Armstead made all of his free throws and had five assists to one turnover, never displaying the nerves that might be common among first-time tourney players.

"At the end of the day it’s basketball," Armstead said. "So yes, it’s a good feeling to play in the NCAA Tournament. But you’ve got to go out and perform every game and play to the best of your ability, (like it’s) just a regular game."

Armstead didn’t score for nearly eight minutes, using that time to steady the Shockers, establish his defense and facilitate for others.

Armstead’s deference allowed Cleanthony Early to establish himself after three miserable games in the MVC Tournament, as he scored six points before Armstead’s first basket. As his teammates became more comfortable, Armstead expanded his game, scoring nine in the first half on eight shots.

"That’s my job," Armstead said. "As a point guard, you’ve got to get your teammates going. Anytime I can get go them early, then it’s going to take the pressure off me a lot. That’s what I like to do, I like to give it up more than I like to score. I’d rather score zero points and win than score 30 and lose."

Armstead nearly got both of his wishes, scoring his most points in a Shocker win this season following a career-best 28-point outing in a loss to Creighton in the MVC championship game. He has scored 15 or more eight times since Jan. 13 and the Shockers are 6-2 in those games.

His offensive abilities were evident throughout the second half, when Armstead scored 13 points and kept WSU comfortably ahead by making all seven of his free throws. He scored five straight WSU points with about six minutes to go to stretch the lead from nine to 14.

Though Armstead suffered through the shooting woes of many of his teammates, he wasn’t deterred. He shot 50 percent in the first half and, along with Early, helped the Shockers work through their early offensive struggles.

"A basketball game is 40 minutes," Armstead said. "You’ve got to continue to stay focused and you can’t get down on missing shots because you know you’re going to get opportunities throughout the game. You got to have confidence and be ready to burn your next shot. It’s a matter of staying focused and doing what it is you do."

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