There aren’t many things in Wichita that would entice 10,500 to show up at midnight, but Wichita State basketball is at the top of a short list.
This town’s love affair with the Shockers is at an epic high and while it might have taken a bit more makeup, especially around the eyes, Wichitans put on their best face late Monday/early Tuesday and showed up in sellout numbers at Koch Arena to support WSU, which wasn’t always pretty but was perpetually intense during a 66-49 win over Western Kentucky.
What a night. The game was beamed nationally by ESPN2 as part of its Tip-Off Marathon. And last season’s Final Four banner was unfurled on the west side of the arena. If you’re gonna be up at all hours of the night, it might as well to watch your school drop a Final Four banner, right?
The Shockers are still taking shape for 2013-14, but have given no indication so far that they’re not ready to make another March run. The offense wasn’t always crisp against Western Kentucky. The rebounding at times lacked.
But Wichita State defended the Hilltoppers to the hilt and showed once again that a Gregg Marshall team might not always be artistic, but will, 99 times out of 100, make life difficult for the opposing offense.
The ball was tossed into the air for the opening tip just seconds before the clock struck midnight. And Koch Arena sounded like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
“I thought the crowd tonight was awesome,” Marshall said. “I want to commend Shocker nation for coming out in droves. It was very, very cool to see that place packed at 2 a.m.. Kudos to them, they’re the best.”
Marshall said he watched a lot of film early Monday, worked some with his team during the shootaround in the afternoon, then went home for a short nap in the early evening.
“It was about a 40-minute nap,’’ he said. “Then I changed clothes and came back to the arena. I was worried there would be some people who just couldn’t come to this game tonight, but everyone who couldn’t got their tickets to people.”
Monday was long, especially for the players. Any routine was smashed into a million pieces.
“It was like watching paint dry waiting for this game to come today,’’ said Shocker point guard Fred VanVleet, who led WSU with 17 points and filled the rest of his stats line with five rebounds, four steals and three assists. “We knew Western Kentucky was a really good team and there was a lot of mental and physical focus to prepare for this game.’’
Western Kentucky was without starting point guard Brandon Harris, who averaged 8.2 points last season for a 20-16 team that made the NCAA Tournament.
Make of that what you will. The Hilltoppers could have used Harris, but it’s likely he would have felt just as swarmed by a Wichita State defense that limited WKU to 28.6-percent shooting.
Those cold hands meant the Hilltoppers couldn’t capitilize on a 42-40 rebounding edge, which included 20 offensive boards.
If the roosters hadn’t been rustling by the time Marshall addressed the media after the game, I suspect he would have had a lot more ire concerning that statistic. As it was, he did indicate some dissatisfaction but seemed more interested in getting into a warm bed.
But the late (early?) start was a neat change of pace. And no doubt the Shockers and their crowd played nicely in front of a national television audience, although most of the people up to watch this one would probably classify as junkies. Except those in Hawaii, who watched in prime time.
“That was a very good basketball team we played tonight,” Marshall said. “They’re going to get a couple of guys back from injury and they’ll add a couple of more players at the semester break who are very talented. That will be seen as a quality win as this season wears on.”
The breakout Shocker was senior center Kadeem Coleby, who had 13 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Coleby, Chadrack Lufile and Darius Carter look like they’re going to share the load inside as Marshall tries to mix and match for maximum production.
“Coleby was good tonight,” Marshall said. “I thought Chadrack played very well in the first half and not so well in the second. As long as I can get 40 quality minutes a night from those guys, I’ve just got to figure out how to make sure the right guy is in the game.”
The Shockers weren’t an artistic success, but they bludgeoned Western Kentucky with defense. And escaped into the dark of the wee hours with an impressive victory.