In a battle like this, with these kind of stakes, it’s good to have friends.
Wichita State junior forward Darius Carter found out as much on Saturday night after struggling through the Shockers’ first two games at the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. Blowout wins over Evansville and Missouri State in which he scored a total of six points and grabbed six rebounds.
It wasn’t the postseason debut the 6-foot-7 transfer from Vincennes (Ind.) University had been hoping for after averaging 8 points and 4.5 rebounds on his way to earning a spot on the All-MVC newcomer team.
“I have great teammates and a great coaching staff behind me,” Carter said. “All I was hearing was, ‘Go hard, go hard,’ and it sunk in. They were all pumping me up.”
Carter shook off his mini-slump in a big way on Sunday in the MVC championship game against Indiana State, scoring 10 points and grabbing seven rebounds as the Shockers took home their first MVC Tournament title since 1987 and improved to 34-0.
Carter was also efficient on his big day, logging only 17 minutes.
“I just wanted to make up for not playing great in the first two games,” Carter said. “This is the championship game. I needed to step up ... I just came out with that attitude that I needed to have a big game because all we’re seeing is that (Indiana State) wants a piece of us. I wanted to get out there and make an impact.”
Carter’s impact was biggest in the first half, when he scored nine points and the Sycamores didn’t seem to have an answer for him in the post.
His first basket came after grabbing an offensive rebound and making the putback for a 16-11 lead. His next two baskets came with Indiana State playing off of him and letting him get the ball in the post.
“Don’t let him sit in on you, deny him every time or it’s going to be a mismatch,” WSU forward Chadrack Lufile said. “It’s a blessing to see my young boy do good. He gets going in the post, he takes over.”
In the second half, the Sycamores tried a different tactic with Carter, putting defensive specialist Manny Arop on Carter. Arop tried to face guard and front Carter in the post, pulling on his jersey several times when he tried to get position. Carter refused to get frustrated, drawing fouls after the referees caught on to the tactic.
“I knew what (Arop) was trying to do, but I wasn’t going to lose my composure,” Carter said. “You just can’t let it bother you.”
Carter’s big day completed a three-game stretch of standout performances from the Shockers’ trio of post players. Senior Kadeem Coleby, who started all three games, kicked things off with a block party in an 80-58 win over Evansville in the quarterfinals, rejecting six shots.
Lufile had perhaps the best back-to-back offensive performances of his career in the first two games — 11 points and eight rebounds against the Aces, then eight points and six rebounds in the Shockers’ 67-42 win over Missouri State in the semifinals.
Sunday, it was Carter’s turn, delivering his sixth double-digit scoring performance in the last 10 games.
“You’ve gotta pick your poison with how you guard them,” WSU forward Cleanthony Early said. “Chadrack is physical. He’ll beat you up in the post. Darius is long and he has great moves around the basket. Kadeem plays above the basket ... there’s no way you can guard all three of them the same type of way.”