The energy started approximately 50 minutes before tip-off of Wichita State’s game in Memphis, when Landry Shamet decided to switch up WSU’s pre-game routine by defending his teammates going through the lay-up line.
It set the tone for the rest of the night, which ended with a 20-point WSU victory Tuesday, and the tone the No. 22-ranked Shockers (18-5, 8-3 American) want to carry into Saturday’s game against Connecticut (12-12, 5-6) at Koch Arena.
Wichita State had recently lacked that energy, but Shamet said its return was no surprise to those on the team.
"Honestly, it was coming," Shamet said. "We saw it coming all week."
To hammer home the point, assistant coach Kyle Lindsted has been using the phrase "energy finds the ball" recently in practices. He repeats it often to remind players that playing hard leads to better results.
The drop in energy has been most noticeable with WSU’s defense. Not only are the Shockers forcing significantly fewer turnovers (their 17.2 percent rate ranks No. 266 nationally), but only 35 teams in the country have a worse steal rate than their 6.7 percent.
It’s a peculiar drop-off considering WSU has essentially the same cast that finished No. 13 in Ken Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency measures last season and posted above-average rates in turnover percentage (19.4) and steal percentage (9.3).
"We know we haven’t been playing with the type of energy to get consistent stops at this level against high-level competition," Lindsted said. "I think our guys understood it was going to take more urgency and passion defensively."
WSU disrupted more than it has all season at Memphis, forcing a turnover on 25 percent of Memphis’ possessions (18 in total) and came up with nine steals for a 12.5-percent steal rate – both of those marks rank second-best on the season for the Shockers.
Lindsted confirmed it wasn’t because WSU changed any of its schemes or coverages.
"It was in the hearts and minds of our guys, not anything we drew up," Lindsted said.
The change in mindset seemed to especially benefit senior Zach Brown, who finished with 11 points, four assists, four steals, and three assists.
He not only returned to the starting lineup after a three-game absence, but delivered one of his best defensive games of the season in limiting Memphis’ star, Jeremiah Martin, to 2-of-10 shooting with five turnovers.
Saturday’s assignment for Brown will likely be Connecticut point guard Jalen Adams, who is averaging 17.7 points.
"That’s who Zach has to be for our team to be the best we can," Lindsted said. "I thought he had a lot of energy and he got to the ball a lot. When you put energy on the ball when you guard it, then good things happen and I thought Zach was the leader of that energy last game.”