Wichita State has until Saturday to determine which is more representative of their future — Monday's disappointing first half or the uplifting second half.
The Shockers led Alabama A&M by three points at halftime before locking into a better defensive mode. They held the Bulldogs to 14 second-half points on their way to a 71-49 victory at Koch Arena.
"No effort in the first half," WSU senior Graham Hatch said. "It was easy to see that. It's really just a sign of immaturity for us, which is sad because we have so many seniors, including me, on the team."
WSU (7-2) could afford 20 minutes of max effort against Alabama A&M (3-4). Starting Saturday against LSU, that changes. All the rest of the games on WSU's schedule should be fair fights.
Maybe the Shockers didn't take Alabama A&M seriously and played a long stretch of uninspired basketball for the first time this season.
No big deal.
Or, maybe they revealed a flaw that will bite them against a Missouri Valley Conference weakling in February.
That could be a big deal.
Coach Gregg Marshall is disappointed those questions are being asked about a team with five seniors and five juniors. He is disappointed he needed to raise his voice during halftime of a home game against an overmatched opponent.
Disappointed, but not shocked. He has seen this group come out flat before. In the first half, Alabama A&M made almost half its shots (14 of 30) and scored nine points off offensive rebounds. It also scored eight points off nine WSU turnovers. The Bulldogs made five layups and two more point-blank shots in the lane — far too many easy baskets allowed by WSU.
"Unfortunately, we're not consistent enough in our approach, resolve," Marshall said. "We're not mature enough to do it from the opening tap. I'm not surprised. I've had to deal with these guys — I've been coaching them for a long time. I see the inconsistency. It's bothersome."
Marshall can usually count on good efforts from Hatch, Aaron Ellis and Toure Murry. All three came through on Monday, a night when senior Gabe Blair sat out to rest his back. Hatch scored a season-high 16 points and grabbed three offensive rebounds. Ellis scored eight points and grabbed nine rebounds. Murry shook off five turnovers to score a season-high 20 points. Those three played the most minutes, because they gave the most in those minutes.
"We survived a very poor first half," Marshall said. "I was disappointed in how we played in every phase. We were better in the second half."
WSU started the second half, leading 38-35, with Murry getting serious about defense. He forced Jabari DeShields into a bad shot, setting a theme for the half. DeShields got his own rebound, but then walked.
The Shockers held the Bulldogs to six points in the first 12 minutes of the second half. DeShields made a layup after one of J.T. Durley's seven turnovers. Other than that, the Shockers contested almost all of Alabama A&M's shots. WSU, after turnovers foiled opportunities, began to pull away after Ellis blocked a shot by Jeremy Crutcher. He scored for a 55-41 lead. Then Murry forced Crutcher to carry the ball. Murry's two free throws made it 57-41.
"We came out in the second half and played with intensity," Murry said. "In the first half, we were real sluggish. We weren't competing at all. It's concerning, but it's always fixable. We have to go into practice (Tuesday) and come with the mindset that every day we have to play defense."
The second half of Monday's game shows how it can be done. WSU held the Bulldogs to 6-of-31 shooting and out-rebounded them 26-12.