Wichita State delivered an 83-80 victory over Providence on Friday in the Veterans Classic. Providence had received some votes in balloting for The Associated Press’ preseason Top 25.
After losing to Louisiana Tech by 11, the first time WSU had lost a home opener since 1995, the Shockers responded in a big way on a national stage. Senior Markis McDuffie scored a career-high 32 points.
Here are some takeaways from The Eagle’s Taylor Eldridge.
1. ‘I let my game do the talking’
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Yes, Tuesday’s performance against Louisiana Tech was below average from the Shockers.
But for players on a young team still trying to find themselves in their first game, there were a few too many grumblings inside Koch Arena. Afterward, many fans took to social media to criticize the play of seniors Markis McDuffie and Samajae Haynes-Jones.
Both responded by playing standout games on Friday: McDuffie went for 32 and Haynes-Jones added 15 points and a career-high eight assists to lead the Shockers past Providence.
“It’s amazing just reading and hearing and keeping my ears to the ground how many people were so negative about Markis and so negative about Samajae because they didn’t shoot the ball or play particularly well in the first game of their senior year,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “I can’t really tell you what my sentiments are toward those people right now.”
Sometimes it’s hard for players to block out all outside noise. They sometimes see negative things written about them on social media. They’re human and those things can hurt.
Instead of dwelling on the negative, McDuffie kept a clear head and played perhaps the best game of his Shockers career on Friday.
“I thought I stayed poised and let my game do the talking,” McDuffie said.
Even Providence coach Ed Cooley chimed in after the game during his postgame news conference.
“I’m pretty sure their fan base is incredibly spoiled,” Cooley said. “They expect to win, more so understanding a coach has a new roster and a new group of players. When you win at the level Gregg has won at, people get greedy. Good for him on this win because it’s a really good win for him.”
2. ‘I feel like I have a Shocker team back’
Friday’s thrilling win should erase the memory of Tuesday’s season-opening loss.
WSU avoided its first 0-2 start since the 1990-91 season by competing at the level Marshall is accustomed to. After shaky performances in the exhibition and season opener, WSU returned to its roots against Providence.
“I feel like I have a Shocker team back,” Marshall said.
Marshall said many of WSU’s newcomers have likely “been told how great they are their entire lives.” They came to WSU with aspirations of starting, of starring, of playing in the NBA someday. Then Tuesday’s loss snapped them out of that dream state.
They came to the realization they had to work even harder at WSU. The players responded with two great practices, Marshall said, and their efforts carried over to Friday’s game. Finally, Marshall could be proud of the way his team played in a performance that was reminiscent of many of those great Shockers teams that came before them.
“They have to understand the strength of our program has been toughness and playing with intelligence and being gritty,” Marshall said. “Whether we’re smaller or slower, just overcoming that by playing angry and playing harder and wanting to win more than the other team.”
Tuesday’s loss hit the players hard. Friday offered multiple chances for WSU to let it snowball, especially down by 10 after five minutes.
But the Shockers showed resiliency in their determined effort not to lose again, even to a highly rated opponent.
“We showed our heart,” senior Haynes-Jones said. “We showed we can go out and play through adversity and come out with a big win like this. It’s definitely a confidence booster.”
“It’s been a great trip and hopefully we can build on this,” Marshall added. “This can give us the confidence now when you beat a really good team that’s going to win 23, 25, 26 games and go to the NCAA Tournament and advance. Hopefully we can improve as the season goes along and get to that point as well.”
3. ‘I couldn’t let my team down again’
McDuffie has certainly benefited from the confidence instilled in him by his coaching staff and teammates.
After McDuffie missed eight of 11 shots against Louisiana Tech, his team had his back. He had been the team’s best player all summer. He was its leader. His teammates didn’t turn on him after one poor performance, and that meant everything to McDuffie.
“It’s not hard when you got a bunch of teammates that look out for you, love you, they know how good you are and how hard you work in practice,” McDuffie said. “I knew I had to stay positive.”
Even when McDuffie missed his first four shots on Friday, he remained confident.
“Those shots, they were good shots,” McDuffie said. “My coaches kept telling me to keep shooting, just keep going. I didn’t put my head down, I just kept going. I know I couldn’t let my team down again.”
Sure enough, those open looks began falling for McDuffie.
Ironically, it was McDuffie’s worst shot attempt of the night — a flailing 5-footer when he was falling to the ground that rattled in — that got him going.
McDuffie said his mindset was important to his success on Friday. He finished the game 12 of 19 from the field, including a career-best 6-of-9 shooting on threes.
“I knew the next one will go in, I kept telling myself that,” McDuffie said. “I just had to stay confident. I didn’t try to rush anything. I think it was my defense that actually boosted my confidence.”
Providence coach Ed Cooley said he had McDuffie listed as the team’s “X-Factor” on the scouting report. That proved true.
“He’s a great player, and he’s been around a long time,” Cooley said. “I remember him when he was in high school. But he played incredibly well. His ability to make shots. He made some deep threes that were contested. I don’t think we showed attention to detail when he was on the floor. They should be really proud of the way he played because he was the X-Factor today the whole game.”
4. A surprise shooting performance
After the way WSU shot in its exhibition game and in its season opener, Marshall said he was pleasantly surprised when the Shockers made 12 of 22 three-pointers and half of their shots from the field.
But it was also a surprise because WSU’s warmup routine was thrown for a loop due to heavy traffic in Annapolis.
“I don’t know what happened, but our little five-minute drive from the hotel to the arena was like a gridlock we don’t see in Wichita,” Marshall said. “I felt like I was in New York City. We literally had to take another route and go through downtown Annapolis to get here.
“By that time, we were scrambling to get dressed. Maybe the urgency of getting here and having to stretch and warm up and get ready to play a basketball game was to our benefit.”
After struggling from the floor on Tuesday, WSU’s two seniors, McDuffie and Haynes-Jones, were excellent against Providence. Collectively, they made 18 of 33 shots and scored 47 points.
WSU also corrected its other weakness from Tuesday: rebounding. After losing the rebounding battle to Louisiana Tech by 11 at home, the Shockers won the battle on the glass against Providence by four and grabbed 47 percent of the available offensive rebounds.