BOSSIER CITY, La. —If Wichita State's basketball team is still searching for its identity, it might want to look at the quiet guy wearing No. 0.
When coach Gregg Marshall demanded more rebounding, Aaron Ellis rebounded. He plays defense. He doesn't care if he starts, because he knows minutes are given to those who earn them.
"He's asserted himself going to the offensive glass, the defensive glass," Marshall said in evaluating Ellis' performance Monday against Alabama A&M. "That's the second game in a row he's given us close to a double-double. Great defense in the post. He doesn't start, but plays 28 minutes."
Ellis and the Shockers (7-2) are far from a finished project as they enter tonight's game against LSU (7-3). They spent games against Nicholls State and Alabama A&M trying to reestablish their cred as a tough, physical team after a loss at San Diego State exposed weak spots.
Starting tonight, the training games are over for WSU. After LSU, the Shockers play Tulsa and then start Missouri Valley Conference play. They can't count on scoring their way out of problems, as they did in early non-conference games. Defense and rebounding need to be a constant.
"It's easy to lose focus on (defense and rebounding) when you're playing fast in transition and getting up and down the floor," Ellis said. "It's easy to lose that focus on getting stops and holding the other team to one shot. Offense comes and goes. Defense and rebounding, that's something you can control."
Ellis is proof of that in the past two games. Against Nicholls State, he scored 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds, both season highs. He followed with eight points and nine rebounds against Alabama A&M. A reserve in both games, he played more minutes than all but two starters.
"He knows his role, and he does it well," senior Graham Hatch said. "It's great to have someone like that come off the bench and rebound and play team ball."
Those performances came after a two-rebound effort against San Diego State's athletic frontline. The Aztecs dominated the inside game, and Marshall demanded that his big men learn from that night.
"It's just carrying over from practice," Ellis said. "I have an aggressive mindset, not only on defense but on offense and rebounding."
Marshall's concerns don't stop with defense and rebounding. The Shockers committed 20 turnovers against Alabama A&M, seven by starting center J.T. Durley and five by point guard Toure Murry. The Shockers are a good free-throw shooting team (making 73.7 percent), yet don't get to the line often enough.
Opponents shot two more free throws than WSU in nine games. Players such as Ellis (three free throws) and leading scorer David Kyles (four) possess strangely low attempts.
Murry is taking the lead in changing that stat in WSU's favor. He made 7 of 9 free throws against Nicholls State and 7 of 8 against Alabama A&M.
"That's part of the game — you've got to draw fouls," Marshall said. "You have to be assertive and get fouled."
Murry is the right player to be on the line for WSU — he is 34 of 38 (89.5 percent) this season. Connecticut and San Diego State, the two teams to defeat WSU, outscored the Shockers 51-17 at the line.
"Anytime I get to the free-throw line, that opens up a lot for our team," Murry said. "I've constantly got that in my mind when I drive to the basket, to get fouled."