Wichita State Shockers

Bench production becomes late-season key for Wichita State

Wichita State's Nick Wiggins celebrates after a three-pointer against Davidson on Dec. 29 at Koch Arena.
Wichita State's Nick Wiggins celebrates after a three-pointer against Davidson on Dec. 29 at Koch Arena. The Wichita Eagle

When Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall points at you, there’s your shot.

Whatever happens after that is on you.

That’s the takeaway from the reserves who are trying to create much-needed depth for No. 4 Wichita State headed into the stretch run of Missouri Valley Conference play and the postseason.

“Marshall always stresses that he needs more guys than his starters to play a lot of minutes,” WSU senior Nick Wiggins said. “He wants to feel comfortable throwing guys in there that he has faith in. So the guys that come off the bench need to produce.”

The Shockers (22-0, 9-0 MVC) have four players that have started all 22 games headed into Saturday afternoon’s matchup against Evansville (10-12, 3-6) at Koch Arena – Cleanthony Early, Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet and Tekele Cotton.

The other starter has been a mix of post players Chadrack Lufile (nine starts), Kadeem Coleby (eight) and Darius Carter (five), with Lufile starting the last seven.

“It’s not just the starters, not even just the first guys off the bench that need to come out and help push the train for us,” Lufile said. “You know what (Marshall) wants because you’re seeing it every day in practice. Go in the game and have your head right, have confidence.”

Marshall usually goes four deep off the bench with two of the three big men, Wiggins and Evan Wessel. Freshman forward Derail Green has seen an uptick in his minutes since Valley play began, averaging 5.4 minutes in nine conference games after averaging 2.8 minutes in 13 non-conference games.

“When you can count on the eighth, ninth, 10th or even 11th guy to help us sustain a lead or even win, that’s a big benefit,” Wessel said. “We have to get after it as a whole, everyone on the team has to find a way to contribute.”

The Shockers’ bench has been good in some areas. The six players who have come off the bench are averaging 17.3 rebounds, which is 43.6 percent of WSU’s total boards.

The reserves aren’t getting a lot of assists, but starter Fred VanVleet distributes the ball so well – his 117 assists (5.3 per game) are 40.3 percent of WSU’s total – and he’s the most durable Shocker at 32.4 minutes.

Where the bench is lacking has been scoring. Carter leads the way at 7.6 points, with Lufile (5.5) and Wiggins (5.3) not far behind.

Coleby’s 2.8 points versus 12.5 minutes and Wessel’s 1.3 points against 13.3 minutes are where the dropoff is felt the most. Wessel has one basket in the Shockers’ last nine games.

“I’ve been struggling offensively, I know that as well as anyone else,” Wessel said. “But defense and rebounding are other ways to affect a game and that’s more stuff that you can control. I try to do what I can to help the team.”