Wichita State’s accomplishments continue to exceed its resume. It is a March routine.
The Shockers are a tournament darling again, the hero of all who enjoy taking shots at the NCAA selection committee.
“They’re a team that can beat anybody on a neutral court,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said.
The tenth-seeded Shockers defeated seventh-seeded Dayton 64-58 on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
They are 7-3 against equal or higher seeds in the past five tournaments. Now the Shockers can – barring a major surprise – think about reversing roles and revenge.
They are headed toward a Sunday game against second-seeded Kentucky. The Wildcats, of course, played the role of under-seeded underdog in 2014 to beat the top-seeded Shockers.
Wichita State (31-4) won an NCAA game for the fifth straight season. It can think about Kentucky, which beat No. 15-seed Northern Kentucky late Friday night. Sunday’s game is at 1:40 p.m. on KWCH.
How Friday’s win unfolded looked anything but routine.
WSU closed with an unusual lineup that sparkled on defense to win its 16th straight game.
With its usual deadly three-point shooters on lockdown, Zach Brown – who hadn’t made a three since Feb. 25 - made all three of his to score 12 points.
“We knew he’s a good shooter and we just stay positive with him,” WSU guard Landry Shamet said. “He can do things like that for us.”
Brown, through his shooting struggles, stayed after practice for extra shooting time. On Friday, all that time in the gym paid off. He thanked team managers for rebounding and passing, as Marshall nodded to agree with the lesson of hard work.
“I try to get in as many shots as I can after practice,” he said. “All those extra hours of me just staying behind and getting up as many as I can, different types of shots.”
Shamet led WSU with 13 points. Shaq Morris scored 10 in 14 foul-plagued minutes. Rashard Kelly scored eight points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
WSU won despite shooting 39.6 percent from the field and missing 14 of 20 threes. The Shockers grabbed 13 offensive rebounds to score 19 second-chance points.
“Tough teams like that, you’ve got to stay consistent,” Shamet said. “We were kind of stagnant in the first half. We weren’t putting pressure on the rim. We weren’t cutting or rolling.”
Seventh-seeded Dayton (24-8) ended the season on a three-game losing streak. Guard Scoochie Smith scored 25 points, 15 in the first half. Kendall Pollard added 13 points.
The Flyers shot 31 percent from the floor and missed 15 of 22 threes. Forward Charles Cooke, who entered the game averaging 16. 1 points, scored a season-low six on 1-of-10 shooting.
WSU coach Gregg Marshall went to a long, rangy defensive lineup with Shamet, Brown, Kelly, Markis McDuffie and Rauno Nurger to shut down the Flyers late in the second half. Nurger provided a mobile big man to guard Dayton’s mobile bigs. The other four are agile enough to switch and move through screens.
“Once we got the six to eight-point lead, they were going to attack us pretty hard off the bounce,” Marshall said. “We could switch a lot of the ball-screen action with that lineup with a similar size. I thought, also, that that was a good rebounding team. I didn't know they were going to block as many shots, but they did.”
A three-pointer by Conner Frankamp – his only points – and two foul shots by Shamet gave the Shockers the needed room. Most of the game played out as a exhausting, physical defensive struggle between two confident, well-coached teams.
Wichita State hustled its way to just enough points in the second half to move on. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t pretty.
It worked. Two months of easy wins over overmatched teams did not damage Wichita State’s ability to persevere and play through tough times.
The Shockers, after a long, brutal struggle broke through Dayton’s defense to go up by six points in the second half. Shamet drove into the lane for an uncontested layup. Brown got open for a three to make it 51-45. Marshall greeted the team with both fists pumping on the timeout.
A three by Frankamp – his first open shot – gave the Shockers a 58-51 lead. Smith quickly pushed the ball for a layup to cut the lead to five points.
The Flyers trapped Kelly along the sidelines to force a turnover. An airball by Xeyrious Williams gave WSU the ball back with no damage done.
Shamet, fouled as the shot clock ticked down, made two of three foul shots for a 60-53 led with 36 seconds to play.
In the first half, Dayton’s perimeter defenders blanketed the Shockers, who missed 10 of 12 three-pointers. Brown got open for the first three of the game. Kelly ended the half with a well-guarded three at the buzzer.
In between, the Shockers missed 10 in a row, few of them open.
The Shockers trailed 29-27, probably a good spot after a rotten shooting half.
Despite the cold shooting, the Shockers stayed close. Seven offensive rebounds, two each from Kelly and McDuffie, led to nine second chance points.