April 2, 2011

Depth, versatility pay for Wichita State basketball

NEW YORK — Wichita State box scores aren't for people with brief attention spans.

NEW YORK — Wichita State box scores aren't for people with brief attention spans.

The Shockers won the National Invitation Tournament on Thursday with a 66-57 victory over Alabama at Madison Square Garden. They summarized their season with an effort that went deep into the roster.

"I think the stat sheet tells the story in terms of how the game was played," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. "You can look at their team and their rotation. They had 10 guys that rotated in and out. They were all very effective."

WSU's five-game run through the 32-team NIT field highlighted that depth. No opponent matched it. Most put an oversized burden on one scorer. Alabama and Virginia Tech came the closest to equaling WSU's talent and variety, but their bench production dried up after the first seat or two.

A different player led WSU in scoring in each of the NIT game, with backup center Garrett Stutz the high man with 24 points against Washington State. Shocker reserves outscored their counterparts 137-53 in the NIT.

Fatigue may have been a factor. Foul trouble certainly hampered WSU's opponents. Alabama's JaMychal Green picked up his fourth foul with more than 10 minutes to play Thursday. Tuesday, foul trouble limited the effectiveness of Washington State guard Klay Thompson.

Foul trouble didn't throw the Shockers off course a bit. Stutz scored seven points in overtime at Virginia Tech after starter J.T. Durley fouled out.

"That's where depth comes in," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. "We bring in Stutz and he goes for seven points in overtime. We go 10-deep, at least."

The NIT also highlighted WSU's versatility.

The Shockers won with outside shooting — making 10 of 20 three-pointers against Virginia Tech. They won with a bruising inside game — scoring 48 points in the paint and outrebounding Washington State 52-25 in the semifinal. They won with defense — holding Nebraska to 49 points and 2-of-18 shooting from three-point range.

"I said four years ago... we are going to play defense and we are going to rebound and when the ball goes through the basket at that clip, we can play with anyone," Marshall said.

Wichita State averaged 75.6 points and shot 49.5 percent from the field in the NIT. Alabama, which held opponents to 59.2 points, slowed the Shockers by forcing 19 turnovers but allowed them to shoot 50 percent from the field and 46.7 percent (7 of 15) from behind the arc.

"Once again, we had pretty good ball movement," Stutz said. "We've got some shooters. We had a meeting before the NIT and said if we are going to do this, we are going to try to win it. Everyone committed to getting shots up every day, more than usual, and it all worked out."

Wichita State's five opponents lacked multiple ways to win. Once the Shockers exposed a weakness, it turned fatal.

Alabama couldn't shoot from the outside, so the Shockers made them into a jump-shooting team. Washington State fell apart without Thompson, its leading scorer, so the Shockers preyed on his tendency to drive to the basket and drew two charging fouls. College of Charleston relied heavily on guard Andrew Goudelock, and WSU's Toure Murry harassed him into eight turnovers and 15 missed shots. Virginia Tech played an aggressive zone defense with weaknesses in the back row. Nebraska fell behind 10-0 and could never control the tempo with its defense.

Five games over 16 days narrowed a 32-team field to one champion. The team with the most depth and balance walked out of Madison Square Garden with NIT champion T-shirts and a piece of the net.

"I don't know what to do," Durley said. "I don't know how to feel. I can't explain this feeling. Great memories."

The Shockers started the NIT by vowing to win it. Durley said they began to believe when they reached New York.

"The first game, against Washington State, we played great basketball," he said. "Then we said we had come to far not to win it all."

Worth noting — WSU's Graham Hatch was named Most Outstanding Player and joined Stutz, Colorado's Alec Burks and Alabama's Trevor Releford and JaMychal Green on the all-tournament team.... WSU finishes the season 29-8, setting a school record for wins by surpassing the 1954 team's 27-4 record. Marshall has improved WSU's win total and winning percentage in each of his four seasons.

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