The night began with limitless optimism at sports bars across Wichita. But then there was a frustrating first half of basketball followed by a wild second-half comeback that brought the crowds to life. And then there was that roller-coaster ending that sent everyone home disappointed.
When Wichita State tipped off against Virginia Commonwealth at 6:20 p.m. Thursday, many fans were hoping to see the WSU basketball team go deep into the NCAA tournament.
Many expected the fifth-seeded Shockers to have a relatively easy time with their 12th-seeded opponent.
“This is a great team – one of the best teams I’ve seen in a long time,” said Steve Cohlmia, a lifetime Shocker fan who was watching the game at the Fox and Hound at 13th and Webb.
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Wichita State graduate Andy Boyd, who has been attending WSU basketball games since he was a child, was equally optimistic as he prepared to watch the game with a group of friends.
“I think this year we go all the way,” he said.
When the game began and Wichita State didn’t jump out to an early lead, the crowd at the Fox and Hound cheered when they could, but the opportunities came intermittently. As the game progressed and Wichita State fell behind, frustration set in for some.
At Larry Bud’s Sports Bar and Grill near 21st and Woodlawn, some fans were trying to figure out how Wichita State could have fallen behind by nine points at halftime.
Chris Sigars, who was watching on the patio, said Wichita State wasn’t making shots it made during the regular season.
“The nerves, I think, are getting to them more than anything,” he said during the break.
Many in the crowd appeared edgy at the outset of the second half, as Wichita State fell behind by as many as 13 points. But the bar roared to life during a strong rally that brought WSU back to within a point with about six minutes to play. The crowd erupted when the Shockers briefly took the lead.
During the last three minutes, the crowd chanted “Defense!” when VCU had the ball and “Go Shocks!” when Wichita State was on offense.
With 12 seconds to play, WSU was down by and had a chance to tie the game.
“Overtime! Overtime!” fan Brandon James chanted during a timeout.
When the final shot missed, James joined in a collective groan that enveloped the room.
“I waited 20 years – my whole life – to see us at the position,” he said afterward. “It’s heartbreaking to lose like this. They’re a good team, but we didn’t play like the five-seed we were picked to be.”
As he left the bar, James may have summed up the feelings of Shocker fans everywhere.
“I’ll just say what any fan would say,” he said. “There’s always next year.”