The 2 inches of snow that had blanketed Wichita on Saturday morning proved little match for Wichita State’s fans.
With ESPN’s “College GameDay” broadcasting live out of Koch Arena ahead of Saturday afternoon’s showdown between No. 10 Northern Iowa and No. 11 Wichita State, an estimated 6,500 fans braved the falling snow to treat host Rece Davis and analysts Jay Williams, Jay Bilas and Seth Greenberg to a pretty wild couple of hours.
The Shockers then returned the favor for their fans, taking down Northern Iowa 74-60 to claim their third Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title in four seasons.
“I think it was spectacular; you know, the passion is there, but this, to me, was one of the highlights of my era, of my 27 years with the Missouri Valley Conference,” MVC commissioner Doug Elgin said. “There’s an understanding in college basketball that (Koch Arena) is one of the great venues in America ... the Cameron Indoor Stadium of the Midwest.
“That was a wonderful celebration of Shocker basketball.”
Fans were lined up around the arena by 7:30 a.m., and some students, including WSU sophomore Gavin Darr, had camped out since Thursday night. WSU served free breakfast burritos to fans in line.
“That was just ridiculous, one of the best experiences of my life,” Darr said. “My voice is already gone and the game hasn’t even started. I got a selfie with Jay Williams. ... It was nuts.”
With the fans outside, the “GameDay” crew filmed several segments in a near-empty Koch Arena, including one with WSU coach Gregg Marshall. At around 8:40 a.m., students were allowed in, followed by fans about 15 minutes later.
Once they were in the arena, the noise didn’t stop until the filming did. Bilas turned and looked at the fans at one point, before the show went live at 10 a.m., and simply said, “Wow” at the craziness.
Williams went into the crowd and let fans take selfies with him, even posing for an Instagram photo with the Shocker cheerleaders while lying on the scorer’s table. The fans chanted the name of guest analyst Stephen A. Smith, making his first appearance on “GameDay.”
The life hour went smoothly – Davis thanked the crowd afterward, including a couple of UNI fans who made it – and fans were ushered out once the show finished. Fifteen minutes later, fans began to fill up Koch Arena for the 1 p.m. tipoff.
“We’re honored by the turnout. ... That was a testament to the fans in Wichita,” said John Brewer, WSU associate athletic director of marketing and strategic communications. “So proud of our fans, our team, our university and our community. Despite the weather conditions, they still showed up.”
The game itself was, as usual, a sellout, with 10,506 fans packed into Koch Arena in a game that saw WSU avenge its only Missouri Valley Conference defeat of the past two seasons. Afterward, the Shockers cut down the Koch Arena nets.
“In my eight years, I’ve never heard this place so electric,” Marshall told fans.
The Shockers now head to St. Louis for the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament as the top seed. WSU, last year’s MVC Tournament champion, will face the winner of Thursday’s game between No. 8 seed Missouri State and No. 9 seed Southern Illinois on Friday at the Scottrade Center.
“I think we’ll enjoy this win tonight, then get back together for practice on Monday and move on,” said WSU forward and Wichita native Evan Wessel, who scored 11 points. “We’ve got more basketball to play.”