Some WSU fans were stunned into silence. Others said they saw it coming after Wichita State struggled against Catawba in its exhibition game.
Regardless, it was surprising to see the Shockers lose 71-58 to Louisiana Tech at Koch Arena on Tuesday. Before we get to five observations, here are some notable things about the loss:
▪ First season-opening loss since 2001.
▪ First home-opening loss since 1995.
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▪ Just the fourth home loss (in 71 games) in nonconference games under coach Gregg Marshall
▪ First time losing back-to-back games at Koch Arena, counting last season’s finale against Cincinnati, since February 2011.
1. ‘We’re not doing what this program is known for’
If there was one trait that this year’s WSU team could share with its predecessors under Marshall, it would be a commitment to rebounding.
But that didn’t carry over into the season opener against a smaller opponent, as Louisiana Tech won the rebounding battle by 11, 37-26.
“We did some things pretty well, but I’m not accustomed to being outrebounded,” Marshall said. “Not only were were outrebounded, but we were smashed on the glass.”
What bothered Marshall the most was allowing Louisiana Tech to grab more than a third of available offensive rebounds (10 total). This was a Bulldogs team that only retrieved 27.4 percent of offensive rebounds last season, good for No. 219 in the country.
“It’s been a major emphasis for us because we’ve not been a great rebounding team,” Louisiana Tech coach Eric Konkol said. “Our guys chased it really well (Tuesday). We want to do some things like Wichita State has done. They’ve got a framework for doing it and rebounding the basketball is a huge part of it.”
So what will the WSU coach tell his team about improving on the glass?
“What I would tell them is not printable,” Marshall said. “We were bigger (Tuesday), but not quicker and stronger and tougher to the basketball.”
The message was received by the players after the game.
“We’re not doing what this program is known for like rebounding and getting stops,” WSU freshman Dexter Dennis said. “We’re not being who this program really is.”
2. ‘That’s a win if we go 100 percent’
The most troubling part of Wichita State’s 11-for-26 performance from the free-throw line on Tuesday was that the majority of the attempts were shot by players regarded as good shooters.
Senior Markis McDuffie and Dennis each missed five free throws and sharpshooter Erik Stevenson even missed both of his attempts. Many of those misses came in the second half when WSU was attempting to claw back into the game.
“That’s 15 points on the table right there,” Stevenson said. “That’s a win if we go 100 percent from the line.”
Missed free throws played a role in a crucial first-half swing when WSU’s four-point lead turned into a seven-point deficit thanks to an 11-0 run by Louisiana Tech. The six-possession stretch included back-to-back possessions when Dennis and senior Samajae Haynes-Jones missed the front-end of their bonus free throws.
WSU also missed seven of 10 free throws in the final 10 minutes of the game.
“We’re all down about it,” Stevenson said. “The fans here at Koch Arena aren’t used to losing. The fans are thinking like, ‘What is this team doing?’ They should know that we don’t feel good about it either. We feel worse than ever about this. We don’t want to let this tradition die off. We don’t want to be that team that breaks it. We feel bad and our heads are a little bit down now, but we’re getting back to the drawing board and preparing for the next one.”
Another area of improvement for WSU can be in its points off turnovers. The Shockers did well to force 18 turnovers by Louisiana Tech, but they squandered many of those chances and only scored 10 points off turnovers.
“We’ve got to capitalize and play downhill and make good decisions in breakdown basketball and opportunity basketball,” Marshall said. “Those are mistakes that young kids make. They’ve never played in this kind of environment and played in a game like this against competition like this. My hope is that the more times that they see that, they will continue to improve. Like we’ve said, we need them to grow up sooner rather than later.”
3. ‘We’re still going to ride him’
Fifteen combined points on 24 shots is not going to get it done for WSU seniors Samajae Haynes-Jones and Markis McDuffie.
For the Shockers to find any kind of success this season, the two seniors probably have to be the foundation. They both contributed in other ways on Tuesday, but they have to be more efficient scoring.
That kind of pressure appears to be weighing down McDuffie, who also struggled shooting in the exhibition. Marshall is optimistic that he can score more efficiently once he settles into his new role.
“We’re still going to ride him,” Marshall said. “He’s still our best player, he’s just got to be more efficient.
“We’ve sent several guys to the NBA and none of them scored 20 a game. But we’re sending guys to the NBA because they’re efficient and they’re shooting high percentages and have positive assist-turnover ratios and they make winning plays and they knock down their free throws. That’s how you have to do it and I think he’ll figure it out.”
Marshall said both seniors will have to be more selective with their shots going forward.
4. ‘It was surreal seeing everyone screaming like that’
For at least a brief stretch in the second half, Erik Stevenson had the Roundhouse rocking again.
The freshman sharpshooter from Lacey, Wash., brought the crowd to its feet and forced Louisiana Tech to burn a timeout with back-to-back three-pointers early in the second half. The second one came from a couple of feet behind the arc and cut Louisiana Tech’s lead to 47-41 with 15:34 remaining.
“It was crazy,” Stevenson said. “It was a fun experience for that short stretch. In the moment, it was surreal seeing everyone screaming like that.”
Stevenson finished tied for a game-high scorer with 16 points. He was 6 of 9 shooting, including four three-pointers..
“But at the end of the day, that doesn’t outweigh the loss that we took,” Stevenson said. “No feeling will ever outdo a loss in my book. Losing is one of the worst things that has happened to me in my life. The feeling of losing is horrible. All of those fans cheering and screaming is fun, but at the end of the night I’m not even thinking about it.”
After not forcing any shots in the exhibition, Stevenson was openly hunting his shot more in the season-opener. When WSU’s offense became stagnant, Stevenson took it upon himself to shake the Shockers out of their rut.
When WSU fell behind by 13 points late in the first half, Stevenson rallied WSU with a slick reverse lay-in and another deep three-pointer to cut the Shockers’ halftime deficit to 39-29.
“I noticed (last game) we have guys who can go score and they can get into the paint and make plays,” Stevenson said. “I figured I need to be one of those guys too. It makes us tougher to guard. I’ve got to help the team, that’s basically what I thought.”
5. ‘Coming away with a win here is big’
For a team that was considered by many to be outside the top-100 teams in college basketball, Louisiana Tech made a strong case on Tuesday that it might be better than expected.
Diminutive guard DaQuan Bracey was a problem all night for the Shockers, as he consistently beat his defender off the dribble and finished in the paint. He scored a team-high 16 points to highlight 42 combined points from Louisiana Tech’s backcourt, which included Amorie Archibald and Exavian Christon.
For a team that lost 10 of 11 true road games last season, a win at Koch Arena marks a big step in the right direction.
“This is a huge win for us,” Louisiana Tech coach Eric Konkol said. “We knew we were going to start the season off and get an idea of where we are. I know the numbers and the strength of the program and the history of many, many years of winning under coach Marshall. Coming away with a win here is big.”
The Bulldogs were picked to finish sixth in Conference USA, but Marshall thinks they could overperform that position.
“That’s a team that can probably win 20-something games and have a chance to win their conference tournament and go to the NCAA tournament,” Marshall said.