At the end of the final practice before No. 19 Wichita State plays Temple on Thursday at Koch Arena, senior Rashard Kelly had a message for the team.
He looked his teammates in their eyes and told them to remember the feeling two weeks ago in Philadelphia when Temple stunned the Shockers, beating WSU 81-79 in overtime. Remember the Temple fans gleefully rushing the court to celebrate. Remember the silent plane ride home.
Neither team has lost since, as Temple (15-10, 7-6 American) has won five straight to play its way back into NCAA Tournament talk and WSU (19-5, 9-3) has strung together consecutive 20-point wins since the setback.
“If I can touch five or six guys with what I said, then that’s important,” Kelly said after Wednesday’s practice. “I just wanted us to not have the same mindset. We didn’t deserve to lose, but at the same time we did deserve to lose because we didn’t finish playing our game.”
In the first meeting, WSU’s offense, which ranks ninth nationally in efficiency scoring at 1.14 points per possession, only generated 16 points in its final 25 possessions (0.64 ppp). It was a painful array of seven turnovers mixed with 6-of-22 shooting, an abnormal performance for such a potent offense.
After taking a five-point lead in overtime, WSU came up empty on its last four possessions as Temple rallied for the win.
“We kind of gave the game away,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said Monday on his radio show. “We turned the ball over too many times in the guts of the game. We have to realize that other players have arms, they have hands, they’re going to try to deflect passes. You’ve got to make sure you factor that in when you’re trying to make that extra pass.”
The disbelief and disappointment in the locker room following the loss is what has stuck with sophomore guard Landry Shamet, who had a career-high six turnovers in the loss.
“It was just polar opposite after the game (compared to halftime when WSU led 48-40),” Shamet said. “It just sucked. I hate losing, especially in that fashion. It’s not something any of us want to feel again and we all understand that and we all know what kind of effort it’s going to take not to feel that again.”
The early results have been positive.
When WSU faced adversity in its next game, on the road when Memphis trimmed its second-half deficit to five, the Shockers responded with a 17-3 run to clinch the game. Four days later, WSU overwhelmed Connecticut at home and had a 22-point lead by halftime.
But both of those games came against struggling teams. Temple ranks inside the top 30 of the RPI and owns notable wins over Auburn and Clemson, while Sunday’s road trip to No. 5 Cincinnati pits the Shockers against the nation’s longest winning streak of 16 games.
“We’ve been talking about how important this week is,” Shamet said. “Me, personally, I don’t care about Cincinnati right now and that’s no disrespect to them. But we know how good Temple is. We gave that game away up there and they’re very capable of beating us again if we don’t play well. So our focus is on them 100 percent.”
While Marshall noted earlier in the week that this is the toughest February WSU has faced, Kelly thinks the team can lean on its experience in the NCAA Tournament and winning the Missouri Valley tournament in St. Louis last season during the crucial stretch.
“This is a tough week, a big week for us, but we’ve been in this position before,” Kelly said. “We’ve been here as a team before and we’ve been in these situations and these predicaments, so we’ve got to let that show.”