All season, we’ve wondered how coach Gregg Marshall got his players to buy in to the 10-man rotation, the playing time, the substitutions. I’m sure it’s not as easy as it looks. Players want to play.
It works, because the Shockers know it’s the best way to win. It works because the seniors lead the way. If they do, everybody else follows. Everybody knows Aaron Ellis made the winning shot last night. Why was he in the game? Because Gabe Blair felt winded and – as instructed by coaches – trusted his teammates enough to take a seat and let a fresh player take his place. “I told coach I was glad I gave the fist (WSU’s signal to come out) so I could be out of the game, since Aaron made that play,” Blair said. “I might not have made it. He made a great play and a great finish.” The Shockers look better in the final minutes with Joe Ragland running things. He doesn’t turn the ball over and he drive and score. Against Evansville and Creighton, he showed the right amounts of composure and play-making ability in the final minutes. Good thing, because he’s got some teammates who don’t always make the best choices in crunch time. We’ve seen Toure Murry struggle in those situations in MVC play. Demetric Williams took two out-of-system shots late in the loss to Virginia Commonwealth. Against Creighton, I thought WSU had two possessions with less-than-desirable shots – one by Murry and one by J.T. Durley – in the final three minutes. Those situations always look easier from the sidelines, to be sure. But WSU will need to win some close games, and it needs everybody on task to do so in St. Louis. I’ve been as baffled as anybody by the home performances. Wednesday was the first time I thought the crowd weighed down the Shockers. You could almost feel the “Here we go again” vibe in the final eight minutes as the crowd groaned and moaned. That’s rare in Koch Arena. It’s weird, but it’s probably best the Shockers are (perhaps) done with home games. Creighton played one of its better games. Based on that one performance, the Bluejays appear to be a team to avoid in St. Louis. They are big enough to compete. They’ve got a good point guard. They are good shooters. Turnovers are a problem. They don’t get a lot of production from their wings (although Jahenns Manigat played very well before fouls derailed him). Creighton has lost five games since January by five or fewer points. That is a team with better talent than a 9-8 MVC record. David Kyles made 2 of 3 threes and WSU shot well – 6 of 15 from three-point range. Kyles is 12 of 54 (22.2 percent) from three-point range in home games since MVC play started (including VCU). He is 11 of 30 (36.6) in road games. If there’s one guy WSU would like to get operating at a higher efficiency this week, it’s probably Kyles. We heard a lot of clamoring for Ben Smith over Graham Hatch, sometimes for good reason. The more you see Smith play, the more his ball-handling and shooting on the move as weaknesses. He’s just not comfortable dribbling and driving. To his credit, he knows his game and doesn’t try to do too much. He is a standstill shooter and a post-up scorer, and pretty good at those things. Hatch is a threat to drive. Together, they complement each other. Visitors at the game – Eric Katenda (6-foot-8), Gabe Olaseni (6-9), Buddy Hield (6-3), all from Sunrise Academy. Katenda and Olaseni are class of 2011. Hield is 2012. Evan Wessel from Heights, Gavin Thurman of Southeast, Jalen Love and Ja’ln Williams of East.