Wichita State appears to be a healthy basketball team. Coach Gregg Marshall says healthier, not healthy.
Forward Evan Wessel started the first eight games of the season before a broken right pinky finger sidelined him for the rest of the season. Wessel, a sophomore from Heights, is close to full-go in practices. In the tournament, Wessel travels with the team, practices and cheers.
“Just being a part of this is big-time,” Wessel said. “This doesn’t happen to a whole of people. I’d like to be playing, obviously, but just to be a part of it and knowing you contributed earlier in the season. . .it’s real special.”
Wessel expects to be cleared by May, in time for WSU’s summer practices. He can shoot, dribble, lift weights and do everything except full contact drills now.
“I’m probably 80 percent. still a little bit of pain, nothing much,” he said. “I’m working for next year. By May, I should be back to 100 percent.”
Wessel averaged 5.5 points and 1.8 rebounds in his eight games, making 11 of 24 (45.8 percent) of his three-pointers. Marshall said WSU will apply for a redshirt season for Wessel in hopes of regaining a season of eligibility.
“One of the things that’s interesting about our team this year is when Carl Hall got healthy from the broken thumb, everyone said Wichita State is now healthy,” Marshall said. “We still had 40 percent of our starting lineup from the first eight games on the sidelines. Ron Baker finally comes back for the conference tournament in St. Louis after missing 21 games and immediately helps us win. Evan Wessel was our starting three man, and our best three-point shooter before he broke his finger in the eighth game.”
“They were all over the place,” Explorers guard Ramon Galloway said. “They won every 50-50 ball, almost, and got every rebound that they needed to get.”
La Salle coach John Giannini watched the Shockers overpower and out-quick his team for most of the game.
“They’re a high, high level team,” he said. “They’re big. They’re strong. They’re deep.”
No chance. WSU’s guards had more than enough defensive energy to contain Galloway, Tyrone Garland, Tyreek Duren and others.
Galloway, who averages 17.4 points, scored 11 on 4-of-15 shooting. Garland scored 16, but needed 15 shots.
“Our guards guarded the ball, they were in the gaps and trying to help on dribble penetration,” Marshall said. “Then our big guys were doing a great job of stunting at the ball handler and eventually trying to build a wall or block the shot.”
WSU’s starting backcourt of Malcolm Armstead, Tekele Cotton and Ron Baker combined to score 37 points and make 14 of 28 shots, 4 of 8 from three-point range.
Scott City mayor Dan Goodman proclaimed Thursday “Ron Baker Day.” People gathered in front of Scott City High, where Baker led the basketball team to a Class 3A state title as a senior in 2011. The Beavers have won two straight since.
Many students and residents at the rally wore gold T-shirts with a drawing of Baker on the front.
Baker’s high school basketball and football coach, Glenn O’Neil, spoke about Baker’s qualities as a humble kid from western Kansas. The rally also featured a launch of black and gold balloons.
Scott City, a town of about 4,000 people north of Garden City, planned the celebration after WSU upset Gonzaga last weekend to reach the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16. Baker scored 16 points, including some late three-point shots, in the come-from-behind victory.