It took longer than expected for Joe Ragland to take over as Wichita State's point guard. He was definitely worth the wait.
"He's finally taking the point-guard role and being a leader on the floor," WSU senior J.T. Durley said. "It takes time to get your confidence. He's clicking now — he know what the offense needs to do and he knows every spot on the floor for each player."
Ragland's development hit its stride since he rejoined the startling lineup against Northern Iowa on Feb. 12. In the past four games, he has 22 assists and five turnovers. In Wednesday's 67-65 win over Creighton, he passed out nine assists and didn't commit a turnover.
"He's grown up," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. "He's a very talented player, and we put the ball in his hands. I believed in him all along."
That belief is paying off, especially in the final minutes of games. Ragland made the biggest play of the Creighton game, driving in the final seconds and finding Aaron Ellis for the winning basket with 1.5 seconds to play. At Evansville, he made a layup to give WSU an 72-68 lead with 3:47 to play. In the final minute, he made 3 of 4 free throws to help the Shockers win 80-74.
Winning those close games establishes Ragland, a junior transfer from North Platte (Neb.) Community College, as the leader who can execute under pressure. That hasn't always been a strong point for the Shockers this season.
"It gives you the confidence that you can make big plays," Ragland said. "Once the Evansville game hit, and I made a few crucial points... we really closed out that game and I said I've got to do this all the time."
In his past four games, Ragland is averaging 12.5 points. His three-point shot, absent most of the season, is back. He made a corner three against Creighton to give WSU a 63-61 lead and is 6 of 15 (40 percent) from behind the arc in the past four games.
Ragland started three games in November. He returned to the starting lineup in mid-January for a short stretch. Different problems kept him from taking over permanently. Sometimes it was a defensive issue. Sometimes foul trouble sidetracked him. Ragland can let his emotions go, and allow one bad play to linger in his mind and turn into another mistake.
Throughout the ups and downs, teammates helped him. Late in the Evansville game, Ragland credited Demetric Williams and Toure Murry — who also play point guard — with helping him handle the ball and organize the team.
"The guys know how I can get sometimes, how I can get lazy," he said. "They talk to me, telling me to keep my motor going. They preach to me every possession, and it really helps."
Ragland gets his biggest test as point guard on Saturday when WSU (23-6, 14-3 Missouri Valley Conference) plays at Missouri State (22-7, 14-3) in the regular-season finale. The winner claims the MVC title.
The Shockers are 8-0 in MVC road games, with seven of those wins by 10 or more points.
"We're a road team — we feel like we've got that different intensity and fire and passion ," Ragland said. "We feel like we're the underdog, and we come out fighting."
Hall honored — Northwest Florida State College forward Carl Hall was named player of the year in the Panhandle Conference.
Hall, a 6-foot-8, 235 pound forward, signed with WSU in November. He averaged 17.6 points and 9.6 rebounds, making 59 percent of his shots.
Northwest Florida ended its season with a 22-6 record and did not make the state junior college playoffs.