The birth of “large ball”
Neither UMKC nor the College of Charleston had an answer for when Wichita State’s trio of centers — Shaquille Morris, Rauno Nurger and Darral Willis — decided to pop out to the three-point line, especially in transition.
It’s effective because Morris (6-8), Nurger (6-11), and Willis (6-9) begin the games working to establish themselves in the low post. The trio bullied their way to easy baskets in the first half against Charleston’s inexperience in the post, then left them scrambling by beginning to pop out after ball screens.
The trio combined for 48 points and 22 rebounds, while Morris delivered a double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds in 22 minutes and Nurger scored a career-high 16 points.
Essentially Wichita State is still capable of playing small-ball with two bigs still on the floor.
“We’re playing big when a lot of people are playing small ball,” Marshall said. “We’re playing large ball.”
So how do you defend the pick-and-roll against this trio?
They made a combined five three-pointers against UMKC, then came through with four against Charleston.
“Most of the time the big guy jumps out there and shows because you’re worried about the guard coming off and making the shot, so you put two to the ball,” Charleston coach Earl Grant said. “Now when you take away that shot from the guard, they throw it back to the big and he can make it, too. That’s a pick-your-poison type of situation there. It’s unique.”
Wichita State introduced a new wrinkle, running Willis off a side screen in the middle of the floor to set him up for a three-point shot. He drilled the shot in the first half.
“I guess I’m pretty lucky to have them running plays for me to hit threes,” Willis said. “I guess I’m doing something right. I’m going to continue to get in the gym and get to where I can be like Conner (Frankamp).”
Marshall said when picking lineups, he doesn’t concern himself with how they fit on the offensive end. He’s more worried about what position they can guard on defense.
Since two bigs are usually on the floor together, it’s important for Wichita State to still use its height as an advantage in the post. The Shockers outscored Charleston 24-2 in the paint in the first half.
“This team does a really good job of playing inside-out and letting everything come to them,” Morris said. “When we do that, it makes us very effective.”
Morris is averaging 17 points and 7.5 rebounds through the first two games, a start that Marshall doesn’t want to fade.
“He’s really good when he’s fresh and that’s something he’s going to have to continue to work on,” Marshall said. “I’m going to continue to work on helping him become fresh longer.”
WSU thoroughly dissected Charleston for the first 31 minutes, building a 70-37 lead. The Shockers were efficient on offense, smothering on defense, and had played error-free basketball to that point.
Then things unraveled in the final nine minutes, as Charleston outscored the Shockers 24-11.
“That gives me some ammunition to go at them,” Marshall said, referring to WSU’s next practice on Thursday. “Even though we win by 18, you can’t feel great about it because the last nine minutes were horrible.”
Morris said it was a point of emphasis for the team following the performance to finish better.
“We’ve got to be a better second-half team and coming down and closing the way we need to close,” Morris said. “That’s something that’s huge for Coach Marshall. It needs to be like it’s 0-0 after the first 20 minutes because down the line it’s going to come back and haunt us if we don’t do what we need to be doing in the second half.”
It was a segment of the game that Grant felt like he could build from for Charleston.
“What we did in the second half from a physical standpoint and a rebounding standpoint, we really settled down,” Grant said. “There were 10-12 minutes in the second half where that is who we are. But we need to do that for more of the game. We’ll take it and grow from this.”
Mentor vs. mentee
Grant still considers Marshall his mentor from their six years together at Winthrop and Wichita State. Part of being a mentee though is being a sponge around your mentor and Grant laughed after the game when thinking back over what sets and actions he saw on the court.
“We were trying to run some of the same stuff, but they would just do it a little bit better,” Grant said. “I could see what was coming.
“We just ran into a buzzsaw tonight.”
Marshall told his team before the game that they weren’t going to trick Charleston’s defense.
“They knew our stuff, they knew our calls, they knew our signals, they knew everything,” Marshall said.
That makes Wichita State’s performance more impressive, as the offense scored 70 points on the first 55 possessions. Charleston was ranked No. 55 in defensive efficiency last season and returned all five starters this season, although second-leading scorer Jarrell Brantley did not play due to injury.
“I didn’t know if we could score 80 points against their defense because they really defend,” Marshall said. “We shot the ball very, very well. We were efficient in the first half. I don’t know how many times his teams give up 47 in a half, but it’s not very often.”
No rematch scheduled
Asked after the game if Charleston would consider coming back to Koch Arena for a rematch, he smiled.
“I told coach, ‘I love you, but I ain’t coming back,’ ” Grant said. “He can come to Charleston if he wants.”
Marshall agreed that the matchup, which Grant pursued, should only run for this season.
“With programs like that and I did it for nine years, you have to go raise some money and play in some guarantee games,” Marshall said. “They don’t need to come here anymore. They got a check and coach told me that he just wanted his team to experience our atmosphere. Ultimately, they’re going to have to win a game like this in their conference tournament to go to the NCAA Tournament.”
Marshall coached his 353rd game on the Wichita State sideline, tying Ralph Miller for most in Shocker history. He wasn’t amused when he was told about the honor.
“That just means I’m getting old,” Marshall quipped.
Landry Shamet (10 points) and Conner Frankamp (10 points) both extended their three-point shooting streaks. Shamet tied Ron Baker for a program-best 27 straight games with a three-pointer, while Frankamp now has 24 straight games with a triple.
No update on Keyser
Marshall said there was no update regarding CJ Keyser’s status with the team. The sophomore guard has not been in uniform for Wichita State’s first four games. The program released a statement saying Keyser must resolve personal issues before playing again.
“He had a nice black leather jacket on on the bench,” Marshall said.