It was the kind of dunk that makes the nation’s electrical grid flicker. It was a dunk for the ages, one that this game will be remembered for long after the final score — No. 5 Wichita State 70, Illinois State 55 — is forgotten.
Grown men cried. The guy in charge of ESPN “SportCenter’s” Top 10 plays did a cartwheel.
And Tekele Cotton, WSU’s Slam Man, quietly checked his nails during the postgame interviews as the world outside was still buzzing.
Cotton’s throwdown happened with 5:40 left in Wednesday night’s game at Redbird Arena. The sequence started innocently enough as Cotton caught a pass on the baseline from Ron Baker.
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Then Superman took off.
Cotton, who is just 6-foot-2, mind you, jumped. Illinois State junior John Jones, who goes 6-9 and 260 pounds, was in his way.
So what did Cotton do? He jumped over Jones. Cotton’s chest appeared to be a few inches above the rim and I’m not sure how much of that was an optical illusion.
His grip on the basketball was perfect. He got to a comfortable spot in his ascension and he slammed the ball so hard that cars outside in the freezing cold started.
Cotton’s dunk capped a 7-0 Shocker run, after which Wichita State played a sloppy last five minutes. I’m convinced it’s because everybody wanted to get to the locker room to watch Cotton’s dunk on their phones.
Sure enough, after the game the Shocker players were mesmerized by what their teammate had accomplished.
Nearly 50 years later, old-time Wichita State basketball fans still talk about a dunk Warren Armstrong had over Louisville’s Wesley Unseld in the late 1960s.
This was in that realm.
“Oh man, that was quite a play,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “Tremendous. Tekele’s just a tremendous athlete and it seemed like he never stopped rising. It was just a throw — a throw-down into the hole.”
Cotton isn’t the most boisterous guy you’ve ever been around, at least for those of us in the media. He’s friendly, cordial and unassuming. Kind of like Clark Kent.
But others were willing to do his talking for him.
“At first, I thought Tekele was really far away from the goal,” Baker said. “I saw him cut so I passed the ball to him. In practice, Tekele will jump 10 feet from the rim and amaze you every time. Tonight, his dunk was indescribable.”
Maybe so, but it’s sure fun to try and describe it.
The Shockers played a terrible first half and let Illinois State hang around. Then they started clicking in the second half. It’s a pattern we’ve seen before and one that could be costly against a quality team.
But Illinois State isn’t a quality team. The Redbirds are a team that shot 4 percent (1 of 25) from the three-point line Wednesday night. They did lead by three points at halftime, but blew an opportunity to be up by a bigger margin.
When you have a chance against Wichita State, you better do more with it than the Redbirds did. Because you know the Shockers are coming.
It was a big night for senior forward Cleanthony Early, who had a 23-point, 10-rebound night and made 6 of 9 three-pointers.
Marshall was masterful in moving Early from the paint to the perimeter against Illinois State’s feisty 2-3 zone. Early exchanged spots with Baker and, because of his height (6-7) was able to shoot over the smaller Redbird perimeter players.
But let’s get back to the dunk, can we?
Shockers fans who aren’t even born yet will be telling their grandchildren about the night Cotton jumped and scraped the roof of Redbird Arena.
I’m usually the guy who says that if you’ve seen one dunk, you’ve seen them all.
But this one was different, because 6-2 guys shouldn’t dunk like this.
Armstrong was 6-2, too. And while Cotton isn’t the all-around player Armstrong was, he’s similar athletically. Which is to say he’s a chiseled beast.
And Cotton finally did talk about the dunk, although not a lot.
“I just caught the ball in perfect rhythm,” he said. “When (Baker) passed it to me, I could see the rim. And I just got a good step on whoever it was who was underneath the goal. I saw the actual rim and I just threw it down. I was shocked myself. It just happened.”
Cotton said he’s never had his vertical leap tested and he was hesitant to even hazard a guess as to what it might be.
So let’s go with 10 feet — 120 inches. Higher than Michael Jordan and LeBron James combined. I’ve seen the replay of Cotton’s dunk now a dozen times. It gets better and better.