Have a day, why don’t you Shockers?
ESPN “College GameDay,” senior day and another Wichita State wins the Missouri Valley Conference basketball championship day after Saturday’s 74-60 victory over Northern Iowa at Koch Arena, where rafters shook and nets were cut.
These kind of days, of course, never get old for WSU, which has won two straight Valley crowns and three of the past four. The Shockers just don’t lose at Koch Arena – at least not for two seasons now.
And while UNI deserves credit for pushing Wichita State to the final game of the regular season and for its remarkable second-half comeback that whittled an 18-point Shocker to four in a matter of six minutes, the Panthers weren’t going to spoil this day.
This day was about the Shockers, whose five starters scored in double figures, had 27 of the team’s 32 rebounds and all 19 of its assists.
Yet it was two guys off the bench – junior Bush Wamukota and freshman Zach Brown – who had their own days.
The worst-case scenario for Wichita State was that, as happened during a 70-54 loss at Northern Iowa on Jan. 31, big men Darius Carter and Shaq Morris get into early foul trouble. Well, guess what? Carter and Morris got into early foul trouble. Morris drew his second foul with 13:57 left in the first half, Carter at 11:22.
The game was tight at the time. Each team was looking for an edge. And Northern Iowa suddenly had one – the Shockers’ best two big guys on the bench.
Except that Wamukota and Brown did more than hold things together. While they were in the game, the Shockers established a lead. Then they built on it.
Wamukota took on Northern Iowa’s Seth Tuttle, who toyed with the Shockers to the tune of 29 points in Cedar Falls. But with the 6-foot-11 Wamukota draped on him, Tuttle was quiet as a mouse.
Wamukota also made a couple of layups, the 15th and 16th baskets of his season.
Brown, a freshman from Houston who spent a season gaining seasoning at Wichita’s Sunrise Christian Academy, made the only shot he took, a three-pointer from the left baseline, to give the Shockers a 21-20 lead with 7:55 remaining in the first half.
It was part of a 22-4 run that helped the Shockers to a 38-26 halftime lead.
“We wouldn’t have won the game without those two guys, that’s for sure,” point guard Fred VanVleet said.
That’s usually the kind of stuff people are saying about VanVleet, Ron Baker or Tekele Cotton. Part of the joy about Saturday was that unsung players like Wamukota and Brown had their moment.
Moments they wanted to stay in. But moments have a way of moving on quickly, don’t they?
“Knocking down that three was wild for me,” Brown said. “Coach (Gregg Marshall) tells us to step up when it’s time and to play with confidence. When I hit that shot, I felt like it really set the tone. It was a really good feeling to be out there, good to be in a place like this and to have the opportunity to shoot that shot.”
Brown looked like a guy with a role early in the season. He scored 26 points in three Diamond Head Classic games in Hawaii in late December. But he scored only 19 in the next 17 games, four of which he missed with a concussion.
Wamukota, meanwhile, has been trying to adapt to Division I basketball. He has the body and the look, but hasn’t yet put together the necessary skill set.
“Today was awesome,” Wamukota said. “Coach is always telling me to stay ready for whenever my number is called because I need to be able to deliver.”
Wamukota was one of the Shockers who failed to slow Tuttle down in the earlier meeting with Northern Iowa. He said he’s been thinking about getting another chance since.
“The defense is the thing I’m most proud of,” Wamukota said. “We had to find a way to stop (Tuttle) in the post. I was ready today. I look at this year as a year of development but I’m getting better every day, working my … off. Now I’m going to get ready to contribute again.”
Marshall, who has been trying to build a dependable bench all season, loved what he saw from Brown and Wamukota.
“Bush, he was something, wasn’t he?” Marshall said. “And Zach Brown, too. Both of those guys played quality minutes.”
Marshall looked flush when Carter drew his second foul early. He feared, like everyone else, that Tuttle would go into a feeding frenzy.
Instead, the Shockers shut down the cafeteria line.
Tuttle did have 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists. But he didn’t go crazy like he did at the McLeod Center.
This, after all, wasn’t his day.