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From 1985: WSU returns to NCAA Tournament

Editor's note: This story was originally published on March 10, 1985.

TULSA — A week ago, Wichita State blew a 13-point lead to Tulsa and lost the Missouri Valley Conference championship.

Saturday, in a rematch between the archrivals for the conference's postseason tournament title, WSU again pulled away in the second half. This time, the Shockers built a 15-point lead with 4:44 to play.

But, try as they might in the final three minutes, the Shockers didn't give this one away. Their 84-82 triumph - breaking a four-game losing streak to Tulsa - earned WSU its first trip to the NCAA tournament in four years.

''We had a mission," Aubrey Sherrod said. "We knew we let the conference championship get away (last week). I'm sure a lot of people counted us out. But we didn't."

Today, Wichita State will learn just what its victory means. The assignments for the 64-team NCAA field will be announced at 4:30 p.m. WSU, 18-12, automatically earned a spot by winning the MVC Tournament. Tulsa, 23-7, figures to get an at-large bid.

WSU Coach Gene Smithson, reminded that at one point this season his team's record stood at 3-6, said of the NCAA bid, "I wouldn't have given a nickel for our chances at that time."

The Shockers earned their trip by putting together 17 minutes in the second half of the finest basketball they've ever played against Tulsa since Smithson and Nolan Richardson began locking horns five years ago.

Even the incredible Steve Harris, who pumped in 24 of his game-high 37 points in the second half, couldn't keep the championship trophy in Tulsa for a second straight year. In the waning moments, after a wild scramble for a loose ball, his 20-footer bounded off the rim with two seconds to play.

Harris' shot came after WSU twice bobbled the ball while inbounding it with eight seconds left.

"I was trying to get the ball to (Karl) Papke," said Sherrod, who threw the pass in from out-of-bounds. "He got it knocked out of his hands and I grabbed it. Then, I got it knocked out of my hands. The next thing I know, Harris is shooting."

Sherrod was lying face-down on the court as Harris put up an off-balance shot from the side. "I was praying he would miss," Sherrod said.

Until those final three minutes, when the Hurricane outscored WSU 14-2, the Shockers had their way.

"When we came out for the second half, I felt the victory," said Mike Arline, a goat last week for missing the tying free throw attempt with three seconds to play but one of the heroes Saturday with 12 points.

The Shockers probably couldn't have played better in the second half. They shot 70 percent; they softened their defense to stay out of foul trouble and kept Tulsa off the free-throw line; they turned the Hurricane press to their advantage and scored layup after layup; they hung onto the ball, and they got production from players other than Xavier McDaniel and Sherrod.

"WSU played lights-out basketball," Richardson said.

McDaniel did his thing, riddling Tulsa for 34 points on 15 of 19 shooting, including 21 points in the final period. The Hurricane corralled Sherrod, who had only eight points - he ripped TU for a career-high 31 last week - but two came from the foul line with 56 seconds to play to give WSU an 84-78 lead.

Those were the only points the Shockers scored in the final three minutes of the contest. A layup by McDaniel put WSU ahead 82-68 with 2:51 to play.

"It seemed like we got a little flat," freshman guard Clint Normore said of WSU's near-collapse. "I think we kind of felt we had the game won and there was still a lot of time left.

"In a sense, we started celebrating a little too early."

Normore was one of the "extras" in WSU's lineup who made the difference. He made all three of his shots for six points. And Cedric Coleman - who had a hand in WSU's failure last week - downed six second-half points.

But it was Papke, the oft-forgotten man this season, who was cited by Smithson and Richardson as the key player in the game. The senior forward scored 12 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished out seven assists.

"He's really come on and made the difference for us," Smithson said. "He was the secret to our ball club today." When WSU had finally ended its frustration against Tulsa, the celebration began.

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