In a span of less than 40 seconds, Wichita State senior Rashard Kelly set the tone for how Saturday’s game against Connecticut would go at Koch Arena.
Kelly fought off two Connecticut players for an offensive rebound to extend a possession that ended in a Shaquille Morris dunk. Eighteen seconds later, Kelly ripped a defensive rebound away from the opposition. Twelve seconds later, Kelly again came away an offensive board.
Teammate Landry Shamet called those “big-boy rebounds” that made it clear from the beginning that Kelly and WSU would be a force rebounding. Sure enough, the Shockers rebounded half of their own misses in the first half and outrebounded UConn by 16 in their 95-74 victory on Saturday.
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“When you see a guy playing hard like that night-in and night-out and flying around, it gets you going and makes it easier for you to get your juices flowing,” Shamet said.
Kelly finished with a game-high 10 rebounds, including five offensive ones. He tied his career-high with six offensive boards in the first meeting with Connecticut. He is grabbing 16.8 percent of available offensive rebounds while he’s on the floor, which is the fifth-highest rate in the country according to statistician Ken Pomeroy’s database.
“The way I think about it is you can’t get a rebound if you don’t go, so I try to crash every time,” Kelly said. “It’s not really anything you can practice, you’ve just got to be committed to trying to go get the rebound.”
Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie certainly took notice.
“They’re relentless,” Ollie said of WSU. “Every shot that goes up, they think it’s going to be a miss and they see it as a pass to me.”
It was a near-perfect offensive performance in the first half, as WSU shot 51.4 percent, rebounded 10 of its 20 misses, and finished with 17 assists compared to two turnovers. It resulted in one of WSU’s most efficient halves of the season, as it scored at 1.62 points per possession.
There was plenty of cheering as the Shockers established a 22-point halftime advantage, but the loudest came during that opening sequence when the crowd at Koch Arena gave Kelly a standing ovation to show its appreciation for his pursuit of rebounds.
“I love it,” Kelly said. “I smile after it, then I pass it out and get an assist right after that too.”
On a team full of shooters and playmakers, Kelly is making himself a valuable piece without scoring. He scored six points on Saturday, but delivered team-highs in rebounds (10) and assists (five).
But it was that opening sequence that Marshall reflected upon, as WSU came out with its second straight quick start following its road win over Memphis. WSU will try to carry that momentum over into Thursday’s game against Temple.
“It set the tone with that kind of energy right out of the locker room,” Marshall said. “It’s all rah-rah when it’s in the locker room, but to bring it out onto the court, that’s the key. It doesn’t matter what you do in the locker room. It matters how intense and passionate you are about your trade.”