1. The Shockers are road warriors
What better team to end Baylor’s 46-game winning streak at the Farrell Center in non-conference play than Wichita State? The Shockers entered Saturday’s game with the most true road wins (41) and highest winning percentage (82.7) in Division I.
No. 8 WSU delivered a steady performance in its 69-62 victory over No. 16 Baylor to hand the Bears their second loss of the week. The Shockers (6-1) held Baylor (5-2) to 37-percent shooting and forced 11 turnovers.
“We know defense travels and sometimes offense doesn’t,” WSU senior Conner Frankamp said. “That’s why we really focus on locking down on defense and rebounding. That’s been key to us winning so many games on the road.”
Baylor coach Scott Drew implored his team to capitalize on the open shots because he knew from studying film on WSU’s defense those chances would be rare. Although the Bears had 13 offensive rebounds, they came up empty on eight of those second chances.
Those empty chances were magnified by WSU’s veteran defense, which did well to contest the majority of Baylor’s shots and limit the Bears to grabbing only 32 percent of their own misses — their second-lowest mark this season.
“They’ve seen every offense,” Drew said of WSU’s seniors. “They’ve seen every wrinkle. It makes preparation that much easier.”
So how did WSU, at a length and height deficit, make up the difference to play Baylor to essentially a draw on the glass?
“Just being more grown men,” Marshall said.
2. Ready to close
Marshall opened up about the Notre Dame loss for the first time after Saturday’s game.
“The last 19 seconds were the toughest 19 seconds I’ve dealt with as a coach,” Marshall said. “In 33 years, I’ve never lost a game like that. We lost that one because everything that could go wrong went wrong. That’s on us, that’s on me. We talked about it. We can’t get that one back.”
Wichita State was presented with a near identical situation on Saturday in Waco, as Baylor rallied to tie the score at 62 with 3:10 remaining after WSU had led for 20 straight minutes.
This time the Shockers were prepared to close out the game, registering their first regular-season victory over a top-20 team since February 2015 by out-scoring Baylor 7-0 on the game’s final five possessions.
“Coach Marshall has done a great job of putting us in those situations in practice ever since that game,” senior Shaquille Morris said. “He put us through adversity, so we could become comfortable in the game and know what we needed to do to execute and win the game. That’s what happened here.”
The game swung one last time when Frankamp canned a corner three-pointer to give WSU a 65-62 lead with 2:50 remaining. WSU reversed the ball along the perimeter quickly against Baylor’s 1-3-1 zone and Austin Reaves whipped it to Frankamp quick enough to produce a wide-open look for a knock-down shooter.
“It felt really good,” Frankamp said. “I’ve been practicing everything. I’ve been shooting a ton of shots and I know I need to shoot with a lot of confidence.”
Frankamp finished with a game-high 17 points, as he connected on 5 of 8 shots from beyond the arc.
“He’s a great shooter and we look for him against the zone,” Marshall said. “It’s why he’s out there. He does a great job of letting it go with confidence. He has great rotation on the basketball.”
3. Zone work
The question entering Saturday’s game was how WSU would be able to score against a zone defense after struggling so much in Maui.
After a week of practice and some looks on Tuesday against Savannah State, the Shockers looked like a new team against Baylor’s 1-3-1 zone. Marshall’s scouting report identified the baseline as an area to attack against the Bears since they often have four players higher than the free-throw line.
“We were getting the ball where we wanted to against the zone,” Marshall said. “That’s so important because they’re so long and athletic and if you just take contested threes, it’s probably a recipe for disaster.”
That’s what happened against Notre Dame. But against Baylor, WSU’s new look began with the aggression of Morris.
He is WSU’s best scorer in the paint and knew he was the one that had to make defenses account for him inside. So Morris was aggressive nearly every time he touched the ball with the end result being 16 shots in 22 minutes, but 15 points and a balance WSU’s offense hasn’t seen this season against the zone.
“I was so aggressive because my teammates wanted me to be aggressive,” Morris said. “My teammates wanted me to sit in and get the ball and do all the things we need to do to play inside-out. That’s why I was aggressive from the start.”
Although Morris shot 7 of 16, below his average, the seed was planted in the minds of Baylor’s defenders to account for Morris because he was being so aggressive. As a result, shooters had an extra second longer on open looks and WSU came through with 10 of 16 makes beyond the arc.
“In practice we work on getting the zone to suck in and playing inside-out,” Morris said. “When we get the ball inside and I’m aggressive, the defense sucks in. Then all of our shooters can get good looks when we kick it out.”
Another part of the improved performance was the ball handling of Landry Shamet, who handed out seven assists to one turnover in 36 minutes four days after tweaking an ankle in Tuesday’s game against Savannah State.
“Just playing within myself,” Shamet said. “Making the simple plays and watching a lot of film and understanding how the zone works and all of the moving parts. What’s going to be open and where to get the ball. I just made plain and simple, easy passes and one thing led to another and guys are open and were making shots.”
4. How WSU stacks up
Drew was asked how WSU compared to opponents Baylor sees in the Big 12.
He said it mirrored a Big 12 game.
“It was a one-, two-possession game,” Drew said. “But it’s just really unique in college basketball to have 6 of 9 guys in a rotation being seniors. You’ve got to credit their staff for keeping them around and them not leaving to go pro or transfer.”
It was the first game of a home-and-away series between the two programs, as Baylor will make the return visit to Koch Arena next season. WSU now leads the series 3-2, although the teams hadn’t played since 2007 before Saturday.
Drew said he doesn’t regret playing a top-10 team in WSU in the non-conference, even though his team is now on a two-game losing skid after dropping one to Xavier on Tuesday.
“You play a game lik this and it’s not a bad loss and if you win, then it’s a quality win,” Drew said. “It doesn’t hurt you RPI-wise.”