Saturday’s game against Connecticut will mark the 50th day since Markis McDuffie made his season debut for Wichita State after missing the first 11 games of the season recovering from a stress fracture in his left foot.
McDuffie led WSU in scoring, rebounding, and steals last season, but hasn’t made the impact he was hoping to make this season. He is averaging 7.4 points and 3.3 rebounds in 18.5 minutes, all down from his numbers from last season (11.5 points and 5.7 rebounds in 25.5 minutes).
His physical limitations have taken a mental toll on the junior from New Jersey.
“It’s super frustrating,” McDuffie said. “There’s some days where I’m really down and some days I want to give up. But it’s part of the basketball grind. This is more than just a game to me. It’s a lifestyle. How you carry yourself on and off the court. My personality off the court is having fun and being enthusiastic. I have to start bringing that energy to the court, so I can build my game back and get back to being myself.”
Landry Shamet knows what McDuffie is going through.
He’s gone through a stress fracture injury twice now and he knows how frustrating the recovery process is. Returning in the middle of the season only makes that transition tougher.
“You can’t do the things you used to be able to do with ease,” Shamet said. “You have to start off slow and start playing slower, which is hard because your mind is going a million miles per hour, but your body can’t catch up to it. It’s really tough. People who have gone through injuries know that comeback is awkward at first, but it’s just a matter of that first breakthrough.”
McDuffie is typically jovial, known to lighten the mood by singing or cracking a joke. He usually always had a smile on his face last season.
That smile hasn’t been on display as much this winter, as McDuffie tries to recover from the first significant injury in his basketball career.
“I didn’t think I would go through this much adversity,” McDuffie said. “I know things aren’t going for me right now, but my teammates are encouraging me and so is the coaching staff. They tell me to be confident and don’t worry about my scoring.”
On a per-minute basis, McDuffie’s numbers actually aren’t far away from last season.
In the 2016-17 season, McDuffie’s per-40-minute averages were 18.1 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.8 steals. This season McDuffie’s per-40 averages are 16.7 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.1 steals. The reason there feels to be a bigger divide is because McDuffie is shooting 39.7 percent this season, down from nearly 45 percent in 2016-17.
Checking his season shot chart on Synergy Sports Technology shows why. Last season McDuffie was taking half of his shots near the rim and making 53.5 percent of those attempts while knocking down 34.7 percent of his three-pointers, which accounted for a third of his looks. This season McDuffie is taking more threes and fewer shots near the rim — a sign of hesitation or inability to attack coming off the injury — and is shooting worse on both (32.2 percent on threes and 45.2 in the paint).
There have been flashes of McDuffie’s play-making, like in the first half against Temple when McDuffie registered nine points, four rebounds, and four assists in 13 minutes. But for Wichita State to reach its potential, it needs McDuffie to regain last season’s form.
“He’s already a 10 times better player than he was when he first came back in the first UConn game,” Shamet said. “It’s just a matter of time before it clicks for him. All it takes is that one game for things to go right for him and for him to get that confidence back.”
Even though it feels late in the season to him, McDuffie is trying to remind himself there are still seven regular-season games, a conference tournament, and a postseason tournament to play.
“After it’s all said and done, this is going to be a story,” McDuffie said. “In the end, it’s all going to work out. What can I say, it’s a journey.”