Several possessions in the first half looked familiar. Steal and dunk. Turnover. Bad shot.
Then those possessions turned into solid stretches of defense and continued for most of the 20 minutes. Few breakdowns. Lots of stops.
Second half? Same story.
Wichita State defeated South Carolina State 85-39 on Friday night at Koch Arena to open a season in which the unknowns dominated the conversation about the Shockers. A six-point win over an NCAA Division II school in an exhibition didn’t provide answers.
Friday’s performance looked like an answer, at least one good enough for a season opener.
What is known is that the Shockers will play defense and they proved that again against the overmatched Bulldogs. WSU, after an uneven defensive effort in an exhibition win on Saturday, locked things down. It held South Carolina State to 14 baskets and forced 19 turnovers, always a good way to start proving your defensive chops.
“For years and years, our base, our whole game is on defense and rebounding,” WSU forward Zach Brown said. “We hold everybody accountable through every stretch of the game, through every drive, through every play.”
The Shockers (1-0) won their 38th straight non-conference home game, their 15th straight opening game and 21st straight home opener.
“We’ve had countless hours of defensive drills,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “There’s not a lack of athletic talent, nor will to win. There was just a lack of know-how and actually showing it for 40 minutes. We held a pretty explosive team.”
South Carolina State (0-1) has trips to South Carolina, Syracuse, Miami, Texas A&M, Clemson and Saint Mary’s remaining. The Bulldogs don’t play a home game in December.
Rauno Nurger led WSU with 14 points. Markis McDuffie added 11 points, making 5 of 7 shots and grabbing seven rebounds off the bench. Rashard Kelly scored nine points and grabbed a career-high nine rebounds.
Greg Mortimer led South Carolina State with 14 points. The Bulldogs committed 19 turnovers, leading to 29 Shockers points. They made 14 of 52 shots (26.9 percent).
“Exhibition game, that was an exhibition,” McDuffie said. “It doesn’t count. We’re still working. We’ve still got things to do.”
The Shockers proved last season that a low-turnover team can overcome bad shooting nights. On Friday, they committed a satisfactory 10 turnovers. Give Marshall a team that defends with passion and takes care of the basketball and he is on the home stretch to winning games.
“I’m glad we won the boards by 21 and held the turnovers to 10,” he said. “Twelve is the number. I’m just worried, it’s a young team, an inexperienced team, is keeping turnovers down and rebounding. If we can do that, we’ve got enough guys that can put the ball in the basket.”
WSU outscored the Bulldogs 21-8 at the line and its only unsightly line came on 4-of-23 three-point shooting.
WSU built a 41-15 halftime lead by holding the Bulldogs to 4-of-23 shooting and a scoring drought of 3:44 to end the half. The Shockers pulled ahead steadily until a defensive stand led to a long three-pointer by Brown that turned on the highlight factory. Brown followed up with a steal and a lob to Eric Hamilton for a basket and a 28-8 lead. McDuffie dunked off a pass from Nurger that punctured South Carolina State’s zone defense and gave WSU a 34-15 lead..
A missed shot led to a runaway dunk for McDuffie and started a 7-0 run to end the half.
The Shockers shot 50 percent, went 11 of 14 from the line and committed six turnovers. Defense mattered more. They forced 12 turnovers and scored 14 points off those turnovers.
WSU started the second half on a 21-8 run that extended its lead to 62-23 on another McDuffie dunk.