Wichita State Shockers

Strange turn of events lift Shockers

Thanks to some thin-skinned referees, a student section that could use a boost in creativity and a basketball coach who was handed a live microphone midway through the second half, Wichita State had the best Christmas party in town Saturday night.

The Shockers beat TCU 80-68, and looked like a big-time team in doing so. But it was slipping away before the strangest sequence I've seen in a while unfurled at Koch Arena.

The Horned Frogs had pulled to within 51-47 on a three-pointer by Greg Hill midway through the second half. On top of it, Hill was fouled by Aaron Ellis.

The fans didn't appreciate the call. The students started chanting, "These Refs (blank)." And the officials — veterans Scott Thornley, David Hall and Randy McCall — didn't like what they were hearing.

First, public-address announcer Don Hall read the Missouri Valley Conference's code of conduct. Then Marshall, wired electrically in more ways than one, grabbed the mic under threat of a technical foul.

"Probably not a good idea," he said afterward.

Except it was. He mildly scolded the students, telling them the last thing the retreating Shockers needed at that point was a T.

By now, as you can guess, all 10,506 in the arena were ready to rip the beard off of Santa Claus. As politely as they could, the fans caused a ruckus that ignited the Shockers, who outscored TCU 29-20 the rest of the way.

Horned Frogs coach Jim Christian blamed his team's collapse down the stretch on poor execution.

"Gregg's a powerful speaker," Christian said. "But I don't think he's that powerful of a speaker."

Perhaps not, but Marshall is coy and he got his message across loud and clear. While gently nudging the students to be more sportsmanlike, he subliminally coerced the crowd, and his players, into another zone.

"It's the first time I've ever had to do that," Marshall said. "It's the first time I've had a referee tell me that he would T the crowd for yelling what they were yelling."

Yeah, and that. Seriously?

These guys have officiated in the biggest of venues and heard things you only hear in a prison ward. And they're going to get rattled by a chant that would barely be offensive in a Biddy game?

"That's a big-time crew right there," Marshall said.

He theorized that they might have been touchy after whistling TCU for three technicals in the first half, perhaps feeling an obligation to at least warn the Shockers that one might be coming if the students didn't start behaving.

Speaking of the students, it's time for a meeting. Somebody needs to take control and teach this group how to mix it up.

I'm not the only one who thinks so.

"We need to be, as Shockers, more creative as to what we yell so it doesn't offend anyone, yet it gets the point across," Marshall said. "I wasn't happy at that point, fans weren't happy. But we, as Shockers, need to be creative. We're educated, we're bright and we can get our point across without getting technical fouls called on the crowd."

Ironically, it all played into Wichita State's hands. The minute Marshall grabbed the mic, the place went nuts. I'm surprised TCU's Christian didn't object to Marshall being given a chance to address the crowd. The whole thing was so unnecessary and amateurish and I'm sure Marshall would love to talk to the crowd every time his team is in the midst of losing a big lead.

It became WSU's most impressive performance of the season, even though the Shockers allowed 44 second-half points. TCU got hot after halftime after being a one-man show in the first half.

The Horned Frogs' Zvonko Buljan, a 6-foot-9 Croatian who can do everything, was the team's only threat in the first half, scoring 13 of TCU's 24 points. When he started getting some help, it was a game.

"I'm glad I don't have to see him again," Marshall said of Buljan.

Just as Christian, I'm sure, is happy he doesn't have to contend with the likes of J.T. Durley, Clevin Hannah, Toure Murry and Gabe Blair, who combined for 66 points, 23 rebounds and 10 assists.

Balance is a real key to WSU's 9-1 start. TCU wasn't sure where to focus its defense and the Shockers kept the Frogs' defense guessing.

Each win for Wichita State is more impressive than the last. And the next game, against unbeaten and nationally-ranked Texas Tech next Saturday at Koch, is going to feel like an NCAA Tournament game.

It'll be the biggest game in which Marshall has coached during his two-plus years at Wichita State and the biggest game in which his players have played.

It'll be the biggest game some of those in the student section have had a chance to irritate in, too. Hopefully, they come up with something better than the chant they orchestrated Saturday.

Although it worked. It started a chain of events that resulted in a huge momentum swing.

Perhaps they are smarter than they're getting credit for. Perhaps they were aware that the genius of the chant was in its simplicity. Perhaps creativity is overrated.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle