Wichita State lost six of its first eight BracketBusters games, enough to sour many fans on the made-for-TV series. Those losses are faded memories after the past two seasons when the Shockers used the matchup to showcase their scoring in victories that polished the NCAA Tournament resume.
The Shockers ran past Detroit 94-79 on Saturday at Koch Arena in the final game of the BracketBusters series, going 4-6 and averaging 92.5 points the past two seasons.
“I like BracketBusters,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “It gets you on a national stage against another good team. A lot of folks from ESPN picked Detroit to beat us. They didn’t think we could play that pace. Now maybe that rumor is dispelled. ”
WSU didn’t just play that pace, it thrived. The Shockers (24-5) committed a mere nine turnovers in an up-and-down game against a defense designed to create steals. It took advantage of Detroit’s casual attitude on defense to score a season high and its most since a 102-53 win over Newman in 2011. The Shockers looked so comfortable running and dunking that coach Ray McCallum said his Titans (18-10) couldn’t keep up.
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“Their ability to defend us and speed us up was a huge factor,” he said. “The pace was too fast for us. They pushed the ball. They ran the floor. You score 94 points, you pretty much do what you want to do.”
Nobody expected that. The Titans entered the game averaging 79 points, 10 more than WSU. The Titans scored 80 or more in five of their past six games.
“I watched them and I was terrified with how fast they played and how well they got out into transition,” Marshall said.
Anybody from the NCAA selection committee watching got a look at a team that can win playing grind-it-out in the Missouri Valley Conference or fast and loose, just like in last season’s 91-74 win at Davidson. In both games, WSU’s guards controlled the game and scored big. Malcolm Armstead, Demetric Williams and Fred VanVleet combined for 13 assists and three turnovers. Once they handled Detroit’s initial wave of pressure, layups came in abundance. The Shockers made 33 of 60 shots (55 percent) and 6 of 15 three-pointers.
“We stressed before the game, take care of the ball and we’d be able to get all we want,” Williams said.
Armstead led the Shockers with 20 points and six assists. Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall both added 18. Williams scored 14 and VanVleet came off the bench to score nine points and hand out four assists in 17 turnover-free minutes. Armstead’s play gave the Shockers the steady, sometimes spectacular, hand it needed to take advantage of Detroit’s aggressive defense. He drove the lane for bank shots, made a three-pointer and burned the Detroit defense with look-ahead passes.
“He really set the tone for them,” McCallum said. “He’s playing like a veteran point guard, and it’s going to come down to guard play.”
Ray McCallum, son of the coach, led the Titans with 29 points. Nick Minnerath added 25.
Detroit, even playing short-handed, kept the pressure on with its outside shooting. It cut WSU’s lead to 70-67 with 11:20 to play on a three-pointer by Minnerath. The Shockers responded, after a timeout, by getting the ball in the lane to Hall, who scored two quick baskets. A three-point play by Armstead stretched the lead to 79-68 and Detroit never made a serious rally.
Detroit challenged the Shockers with a lob on its first play, slammed in over his head by Doug Anderson. Most of the rest of the day belonged to WSU, once it realized the Titans willingly gave up easy baskets and didn’t get back on defense especially quickly.
The Shockers went on a 10-1 run to go ahead 29-17. Hall scored on a layup from Armstead for a 23-16 lead. After a Detroit turnover, Armstead passed ahead to Demetric Williams for a layup and a 27-17 lead. McCallum responded with a quick shot and WSU turned that into another fast-break basket for Williams and a 12-point edge.
WSU put together another burst, scoring on six straight possessions, to take a 44-31 lead. It led 46-35 at halftime after making 19 of 34 shots and handing out 12 assists. Detroit made 13 of 31 shots.