Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall made Darius Carter mad, called him soft, and there aren’t many harsher words that can come from a coach.
“He was getting on me a lot and I was ready to prove him wrong,” Carter said. “I was frustrated to the point where I wanted to shut him up.”
Carter did, much to Marshall’s delight.
Carter, a 6-foot-7 junior forward, caught Marshall’s glare and voice for losing the ball, with little defensive pressure, near the end of the first half during Saturday’s win at Northern Iowa. In the second half, he scored 12 of his 16 points and made all five of his shots. That is the Carter that Marshall is trying to pull out more often.
No. 4 WSU (25-0, 12-0 Missouri Valley Conference) returns to Koch Arena after a two-game road trip to face Southern Illinois (10-15, 6-6) on Tuesday. Conference play took some of the sizzle out of Carter’s season and he hopes Saturday’s game is the start of a rebirth.
So does Marshall, weary of his guards making good passes to Carter with no reward. After the turnover, he lit him up in the huddle and waited to see the response.
“He responded beautifully,” Marshall said. “I was really, really proud of him. I got on him pretty hard, because I’m tired of them throwing the ball to him and losing the ball.”
While Marshall showed his displeasure, Carter’s teammates did their job. Ron Baker patted him on the chest after the play. During the huddle, teammates patted him on the shoulder and head and told him to move on to the next play. That is the way a huddle is supposed to work when a coach is angry. The coach motivates, in whatever fashion he sees fit, and the teammates provide unconditional support.
“That’s everybody’s role as a teammate,” Baker said. “For Darius, it’s very important that we’re next to him.”
What Marshall wants to see next is Carter playing that way without an angry intervention. Carter wants to find something — anything — to get angry about before tip off against SIU.
“I’ll wake up mad about something, maybe the sun will be in my eyes,” he said. “I play a lot better when I’m mad. I’ve got to learn to click that in my brain on my own instead of having a coach get on me.”
When Carter is playing with the proper level of aggression, he can score and rebound as well as any big man in the MVC. If the Shockers are going to follow this history-making path to an unbeaten season and beyond, Carter must perform. His array of post moves is growing and he shows shooting range out to 15 feet. Against UNI, he produced easy baskets by running the floor and beating the defense to the basket.
“We’re going to need him, big-time,” Baker said. “We’ve seen what he’s capable of and we’re just trying to get that out of him every single game.”
Carter finished non-conference play with a series of strong games, scoring in double figures in four of the final five. He dented Tennessee for 11 points and 14 rebounds, scored nine points with seven rebounds at Alabama and scored 19 points against North Carolina Central. MVC play, as it often does to newcomers, proved a different beast.
Carter averages 8.0 points and 4.4 rebounds.
“The Valley’s kind of messed with him,” Marshall said. “We don’t win Tennessee and Alabama without him. But the Valley, all this grabbing and pushing, it bothered him.”
Carter, who transferred to WSU from Vincennes (Ind.) University, reached double figures twice in 11 MVC games before Saturday.
“I wasn’t mentally prepared for that,” he said. “It’s a lot more physical. I’m mentally prepared for guys grabbing you, and the ref can’t see it, you’ve just got to play through it.”
The Shockers are home for Tuesday’s game before another two-game road swing. They lead the MVC by three games with six to play. As usual, the two-month conference schedule manufactures challenges.
SIU is a different team than the one WSU defeated 82-67 on Jan. 2 at SIU Arena. After starting MVC play 1-4, it is 6-6 and in a four-way tie for third.
Freshman guard Tyler Smithpeters didn’t play on Jan. 2. He now starts. Freshman forward Bola Olaniyan played four minutes. He starts. Point guard Marcus Fillyaw has missed nine games with a broken bone in his left hand, although he is practicing and may return this week. Sophomore Anthony Beane took his job and is averaging 23.8 points the past four games while making 31 of 53 shots. In the first meeting, he didn’t score in 34 minutes.