Gregg Marshall’s inkling proved correct.
Recent practices had Wichita State’s coach concerned that his team’s performance in an exhibition game against Division II’s Catawba wouldn’t be pretty and those worries were validated in WSU’s 75-64 victory at Koch Arena on Tuesday night.
Yes, the Shockers won their 25th straight exhibition game, but it was anything but pretty.
WSU fell behind 6-0 after three possessions, trailed 31 minutes into the game and found itself in a back-and-forth tussle with a Division II team coming off an 11-15 season well into the second half.
It wasn’t until the team’s two seniors, Samajae Haynes-Jones and Markis McDuffie, caught fire and connected on three straight 3-pointers late in the second half that the Shockers found separation with a 9-0 run. After McDuffie drilled a step-back jumper, his third straight make, WSU built its largest lead of the game, 60-51, with five minutes remaining and Catawba never threatened after that.
Haynes-Jones finished with a game-high 19 points, while freshman Jamarius Burton added 16 points off the bench and McDuffie scored 14. That trio combined to account for two-thirds of WSU’s offense. Jameel Taylor led Catawba with 18 points.
It wouldn’t have been surprising if the offense struggled for stretches, considering it was the program’s first time playing in October. It’s early and offenses, especially ones trying to incorporate eight players transitioning to the Division I level, tend to struggle early.
The Koch Arena crowd desperately wanted any reason to let loose for the first time in the 2018-19 season, but the Shockers never fully delivered an ear-splitting run punctuated by highlight-reel plays.
Haynes-Jones tried to provide a spark with a step-back jumper, but WSU failed to produce a stop to build a run. Asbjorn Midtgaard delighted the crowd when he finished through contact for a slam dunk, but again WSU failed to capitalize. Haynes-Jones again brought the crowd to its feet with a dazzling crossover that he finished off with a mid-range jumper over a lost defender.
It was ready to erupt when Chance Moore stole the ball to ignite a fast break, but all momentum halted when Moore dribbled into a crowd for a quick turnover that led to an easy Catawba lay-in.
It was far from the only mistake, but gave an accurate representation of the game’s first 35 minutes for the Shockers.
Burton may have been the lone bright spot for WSU in the first half. The freshman leveraged his 208-pound frame close to the basket for easy shots and scored 12 points on four shots and played 13 minutes in the first half alone. Along with his 16 points, Burton added five rebounds, three assists and a steal.
McDuffie scored 14 points, but did so on 13 shots with four turnovers. He appeared to be pressing early and rushed into several contested jump shots. But when McDuffie found his rhythm in the second half, he provided the missing piece for WSU’s offense. He rescued the Shockers with a barrage of jumpers that barely moved the net and finished with 12 points in the second half.
Along with Burton, Haynes-Jones was WSU’s most consistent performer. Given an expanded role, the Wichita native showed what his quickness can do over the course of 30-plus minutes. Defenders struggled to stay in front of Haynes-Jones, as he uses tiny bursts to create the separation he needed to drain shots from the perimeter.
Exhibition rules allowed Marshall to play all six of his true freshmen (Burton, Dexter Dennis, Erik Stevenson, Chance Moore, Morris Udeze and Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler) without sacrificing a potential redshirt. West Virginia transfer Teddy Allen was not eligible to play, as he is still awaiting word from the NCAA on his waiver request.
WSU opens its season in one week at Koch Arena when it plays Louisiana Tech on Nov. 6 at 7 p.m.