Wichita State junior Rashard Kelly is as old as it gets in the Shocker playing rotation. He knows early February, when the body aches and road trips pile up and the thrill of March is far away.
The best way to get through it is play harder and smarter, exactly what Kelly is doing.
For his efforts Sunday at Bradley, coach Gregg Marshall compared him to former Shocker Evan Wessel, the highest of hard-working compliments. On Wednesday, Kelly matched that effort by leading a second-half rally in a 77-69 win over Drake at Knapp Center.
“Basketball is a long season; we’ve been at it since June,” Kelly said. “It helps you understand that not everything is going to be easy, not every day is going to be one of them 40-point wins. You’ve just got to learn how to grind and find different ways to impact the game in a positive way.”
Wichita State (20-4, 10-1 Missouri Valley Conference) hit the 20-win mark for an eighth consecutive season. The Shockers defeated the Bulldogs for an 11th straight time.
Landry Shamet led WSU with 17 points. Conner Frankamp added 16 points, making 4 of 8 three-pointers. Markis McDuffie matched his career high with 14 rebounds for a second consecutive game. He had eight assists, also a career high.
After stumbling through the first half, WSU made 15 of 27 shots in the second half and closed the game with a 30-14 run over the final 11:06.
Most of the previous 10 wins over Drake, only one closer than 10 points, came much more easily.
The Shockers, similar to their 64-49 win at Bradley, had to work harder than they did in a home blowout. Drake (7-16, 5-6) made 11 of 29 three-pointers, made the most seven offensive rebounds with 13 second-chance points and produced five second-half steals to make the Shockers play until the final seconds.
“For a very large part of that game we were very aggressive, we were on the attack,” Drake coach Jeff Rutter said.
De’Antae McMurray led Drake with 28 points. He made 5 of 10 threes.
WSU’s defense suffered some breakdowns, but it didn’t collapse. Shaq Morris, who finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds, threw up a wall to discourage Drake drivers. When leading scorer Reed Timmer escape the reach of Zach Brown, he found Morris waiting. Frankamp kept Ore Arogundade from getting open shots.
No other Bulldog scored in double figures. Timmer, who averages 16.6 points, finished with seven on 2-of-11 shooting. Arogundade, who averages 13 in MVC play, scored five.
Drake, down seven early in the second half, pushed the Shockers to the edge of disaster with a 20-5 run to go up 55-47 with 11:28 to play.
That’s when Kelly asserted himself. His three-point play started a 12-3 run that gave the Shockers the lead for good. He contributed two dunks – on a two-handed jam on a drive from the three-point line – during that stretch.
He took a charge from Arogundade, leading to Frankamp’s three for a 64-58 lead. In the final two minutes, Kelly made two foul shots and tipped in a miss to keep Drake’s rally from gaining momentum.
“He was dynamic,” Marshall said. “Just a live wire with his drives and his follows and his energy plays.”
The Bulldogs couldn’t match that burst. They missed 6 of 8 shots during that crucial span and the Shockers kept scoring.
“We cooled off in a really important stretch of the game,” Rutter said.
The Shockers started the second half strong, going up 44-38 on a three by Frankamp and a basket by Morris. Two turnovers by Shamet, however, ended that run and McMurray turned them into a layup and a three to cut WSU’s lead to 44-43.
The turnovers kept coming and Drake surged to a 53-47 lead, capping that 15-3 run with a three-pointer by Graham Woodward.