'We came up one possession short.'
Wichita State exits the NCAA Tournament stage again at the hands of Kentucky.
Too early. With a shot in the air to win or tie.
Just like in 2014.
Too early. Losing on the scoreboard and winning in the court of opinion.
Just like in 2014.
Second-seeded Kentucky defeated Wichita State 65-62 on Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Shockers end another special season a few points short against college basketball’s Big Blue empire. In 2014, Kentucky knocked off the top-seeded Shockers 78-76 when Fred VanVleet’s three-pointer bounced off the rim in St. Louis.
Three seasons later, the players are different, the seeds flipped and the talent still tilted toward the NBA-ready Wildcats. The Shockers again made their case as an elite program with a heart-breaking defeat.
Just like in 2014.
“I know that we have the heart of a champion,” coach Gregg Marshall said. “If we get a break or two, and another shot goes down, maybe we’re advancing; maybe we win the whole thing. So that will be our goal next year.”
The loss snapped a 16-game win streak for the 10th-seeded Shockers (31-5).
“There weren’t many words to be said, postgame,” junior Rashard Kelly said. “We all felt the disappointment.”
Second-seeded Kentucky (31-5) won its 13th straight game and advances to the Sweet 16 in the South Regional.
Wichita State’s Landry Shamet scored 20 points, 13 in the final 7 minutes, 25 seconds to rally the Shockers. Shaq Morris added 11 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.
Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk both scored 14 points. Center Bam Adebayo scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half.
The Shockers negated Kentucky’s athletic edges with their typical fierce defense and rebounding. They kept the Wildcats from running on offense for most of the game. All that went according to plan.
Little went as planned in the final 40 seconds.
In a cruel twist, Marshall lacked the timeouts necessary to help his team produce a good shot. He religiously and famously hoards timeouts. On Sunday, circumstances intervened and robbed him of that option.
“That’s a rarity,” Marshall said.
The Shockers called their first timeout of the second half to stop Kentucky’s momentum during a 7-0 run with 13:07 to play. Zach Brown called the second to avoid a five-second call, against a press, with 3:03 to play. The Shockers took their final timeout with 55 seconds to play after Shamet’s three cut Kentucky’s lead to 63-62.
That gave Kentucky freedom to switch and use its height and quickness to its maximum effect. The Shockers never got another good shot at the basket.
“We came up one possession short and (we’ve) got to execute better,” Marshall said. “That’s on me.”
WSU’s Markis McDuffie shot from long range, with 15 seconds to play and seven remaining on the shot clock. Monk blocked it cleanly.
“I think he just rushed things a little bit and settled for a very contested three-point shot,” Marshall said. “I think we could have put more pressure on them by driving. There was plenty of time at that point to drive the ball. He elected to pull the trigger there so that wasn’t great, to say the least.”
Free throws by Monk extended Kentucky’s lead to 65-62 with 10 seconds to play.
“They played great defense,” McDuffie said. “I will give them that. We just couldn’t pull it off.”
Again, the Wildcats threw up a wall around the three-point line and hounded the Shockers out of every comfortable spot. They forced Shamet to dribble out of the play, away from his options to pass, and take a contested shot before the buzzer.
Adebayo, helping after a teammate went for a pump fake, blocked Shamet’s three.
“Coach said that that late-game execution was on him, but it’s on me,” Shamet said. “I’m the point guard. He called it and it was clear with what we were supposed to do.”
WSU’s Conner Frankamp slipped away from the 6-foot-10 Adebayo toward the corner as the clocked ticked away. Shamet, if he saw his teammate open, had little time to pass.
“He pump-faked Dom, so I had to help my teammate,” Adebayo said. “As soon as he went to jump, I blocked it.”
Shamet played spectacularly in the final minutes. His basket cut Kentucky’s lead to 50-46. A three made it 54-51. Three free throws by Shamet pulled the Shockers within 58-56.
The Shockers also got a big three from Brown, who cut Kentucky’s lead to 61-58. Shamet scored again from behind the arch to bring WSU within 63-62.
Wichita State needed those heroics because of a few breakdowns, forgivable against most teams. In a tight game against the super-charged Wildcats, every mistake matters.
Brown threw a soft pass that Fox stole and dunked for a 58-51 lead.
The Shockers largely kept Adebayo under wraps, thanks mostly to Morris, until the second half. Adebayo scored on a putback and a dunk when matched against Darral Willis with Morris on the bench. Adebayo’s dunk, after getting good position against Willis to take the pass for clear run at the rim gave Kentucky a 52-46 lead.
Two turnovers in two minutes midway through the half by guard Daishon Smith hurt, although only one led to a basket.
“We didn’t have very good ball security,” Marshall said. “We had a couple of really bad passes that fueled their transition.”
When Shamet’s final shot bounced away, he crouched down. The Shockers looked stunned, staring at the scoreboard. Fans screamed for a foul. Players traded handshakes and hugs with the Wildcats and departed to the locker room.
Another special season ends against Kentucky.