Wichita State’s Zach Brown smiled and listed the big names — Arizona, Kansas.… Add one more to the list.
Beating Oklahoma 76-73 isn’t an NCAA Tournament victory as those others are. It might, however, play a significant role in getting the Shockers back in that bracket in March. On a cold December night, knocking off another of college athletics’ biggest and best brands added more heft to Wichita State’s resume.
“We’ve got a lot of big heads … teams like Arizona and KU and now OU,” Brown said. “These are all big wins we can put in our pocket. It helps us knowing that we can battle with all these other teams that they said we couldn’t.”
In a three-game season to impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee, Wichita State is 2-0 and coming home with a Daishon Smith tailwind. Smith scored all 13 of his points in the final 8:28, starting with a video-game dunk, to help the Shockers pull away in Saturday’s game at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
WSU (9-2) can add that win to last week’s victory at Colorado State and hope both pay off in March, if needed, when the selection committee picks the NCAA field. Next Saturday, Oklahoma State visits Intrust Bank Arena, WSU’s final chance to wrap up, perhaps, a quality non-conference victory.
“(OU) will be an NCAA Tournament team,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “They’re young and they’re going to get better. They’ve got a hall of fame coach.”
Brown led WSU with a career-high 17 points, making 4 of 6 shots. Smith also handed out a season-high six assists and earned the All-College Classic Most Outstanding Player honor. Center Shaq Morris, playing in his hometown, blocked five shots, four in the second half.
Guard Jordan Woodard led OU (6-3) with 28 points and Christian James added 15 on 3-of-17 shooting.
The Sooners shot 30.8 percent from the field and committed seven second-half turnovers after three in the first half. OU outscored the Shockers 27-17 at the foul line, but it was even at 13 in the second half.
The first 31 minutes featured shot-blocking, big bodies banging around and frustrating sequences of missed shots. The rest of the game belonged to Smith, a junior transfer who spent the summer and fall with Marshall demanding he learn how to increase his energy and make his speed more of a factor.
In those final nine minutes, Smith did just that. He started the turning point with a dunk that left three Sooners in his wake, mixed in a three-pointer to beat the shot clock and finished with two free throws in the final 32 seconds.
“I was on the court when he dunked on that guy and I was so happy it was like I dunked the ball,” WSU forward Darral Willis said.
Smith checked his smart phone after the game and before interviews. That dunk, sure to rank with Tekele Cotton’s against Illinois State and Cleanthony Early’s in the 2013 Final Four in the minds of fans, played over and over on social media.
The lane opened and Smith dribbled past Khadeem Lattin and flew by Kristian Doolittle for a one-handed jam and a 55-50 lead.
“Everybody was tagging me on Twitter,” Smith said. “It was man vs. man and I just wanted to slam it down home and give us some momentum. I still can’t believe I did it.”
That dunk started the end for the Sooners. Smith timed Woodard’s dribble as he drove left, knifed in front of him, and took the ball. He drew a foul from Woodard and his free throws gave the Shockers a 57-50 lead with 8:08 to play.
Fifty-nine seconds later, Smith jumped in front of a pass by OU’s Dante Buford and that steal led to a layup and a 59-50 lead.
Smith’s three-pointer, late in the shot clock, put the Shockers up 70-62 with 1:55 to play. He smiled, just a bit, and clapped his hands on the defensive possession.
The Shockers wobbled a bit. Willis missed a free throw. A turnover by Rashard Kelly with 41 seconds to play allowed OU to cut the lead to 71-65. Conner Frankamp missed two foul shots with 16 seconds to play and a layup by Lattin made it 73-70. The Shockers made three of four foul shots in the final 10 seconds to survive.
The Shockers committed nine turnovers in the first half to lead to 11 points for OU. The Sooners outscored WSU 14-4 at the line and committed three turnovers.
“They were the aggressor,” Marshall said. “They got to the foul line a ton. We were kind of a half-step behind them.”
Back to back turnovers helped OU pull away, briefly, late in the first half. A three by James gave OU a 32-29 lead. After another WSU turnover, Lattin made two foul shots. A three by Woodard made it 37-31 and free throws by James stretched the edge to eight points.
The Shockers rallied in the final 90 seconds of the half. Markis McDuffie, cutting to the basket, scored on pass from Morris to stop OU’s run. Brown made four free throws to end the half with WSU down 39-37.