Gregg Marshall: “Jaime made himself some money tonight”
Markis McDuffie took over down the stretch, scoring 15 of his team-high 24 points to deliver a come-from-behind 82-76 victory for Wichita State over Appalachian State in the consolation bracket of the Charleston Classic.
The Shockers (2-2) advanced and will play Alabama (3-1) for fifth place and a winning record this week in Charleston on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. CT.
Here are five takeaways from WSU’s second win of the season:
1. ‘Just gimme the ball’
WSU was in danger of losing late in the second half when Markis McDuffie screamed, “Just gimme the ball” in his New Jersey accent with the Shockers trailing by five points with a little more than six minutes remaining.
That kicked off a dominant stretch by McDuffie, as the senior scored 15 points in the final six minutes to lead his team to victory.
“It was just heat of the moment, when you are just feeling it in a game,” McDuffie said. “It was like, ‘Let’s go, man.’ I got a team where I’m the guy and I’ve got to take over and have that mindset, not only on offense but defense too.”
McDuffie drilled a three to snap WSU out of a seven-minute funk and trim the deficit to 66-64. He made two free throws, then swished another three to put the Shockers ahead, 69-68, with 4:08 remaining. He hit another three to build the lead to four, scored a layup to extend the lead to five and closed out the game with two free throws with 10 seconds left.
“I thought we actually did a pretty good job on him,” Appalachian State coach Jim Fox said. “We were there. Guys in his face, he still made it. But big-time players make big-time plays and that’s what he did.”
McDuffie was 4 for 4 from the field and 4 for 4 from the free-throw line in closing out the game.
“When it was time to take over, I knew I had to stay poised,” McDuffie said. “Being a leader, you have to be poised down the stretch. I wanted to make sure I was taking the right shot for my team. I didn’t want to rush anything. I just wanted to stay poised.”
To Marshall, the biggest sign of growth in McDuffie wasn’t any of the shots he took. It was the one that he passed up. With less than 40 seconds left and the shot clock dwindling, McDuffie drove the paint and could have forced the issue. Instead, he dumped it off to an open Jaime Echenique, who fumbled the catch out of bounds.
It may have been a turnover, but Marshall said it was the right basketball play.
“I can grow as a coach and my senior leader can grow and he’s continually doing that,” Marshall said. “I keep trying to put the ball in his hands, and that’s what I want, growth. It was a great pass. Last night he didn’t make that play when it was wide open to Morris Udeze, and he took a bad shot. At least he made the play. Now it’s up to Jaime to grow, so he can catch it and finish it.”
2. ‘Jaime made himself some money tonight’
For a three-minute stretch in the first, Jaime Echenique was the best player on the floor.
The 6-foot-11 center from Colombia, an under-the-radar find by Marshall in the junior-college ranks, did a little bit of everything to spark a 12-1 run as WSU established a 37-32 lead. He scored on two tip-ins, stepped out and knocked down a three, took a charge, and even dished an assist to Erik Stevenson on a back cut for a layup.
Echenique finished with WSU’s first double-double of the season, 12 points and 11 rebounds to go with three assists and a block in 22 minutes.
“Jaime made himself some money tonight,” Marshall said. “Now I don’t know if he’ll be a NBA player. I’d love to see him develop into a NBA player, but when you can shoot the three and have that type of size. He’s obviously got to get a little stronger, a little tougher, a little meaner and a little more aggressive. But gosh, every NBA scout for every team is here and he goes for a double-double and knocks down two threes.”
WSU has been at its best this season when Echenique has been on the floor and that was again the case on Friday against Appalachian State. Echenique was plus-7 in his 22 minutes and WSU outscored Appalachian State 19-4 in the final six minutes of the first half with him out there providing the spark.
He has also been one of the team’s hardest workers. He spent time before Friday’s game with WSU’s student managers playing catch with a football to try to improve his hands. It’s a work-in-progress, but Echenique is already making strides early in the season.
“At some points it’s really stressful because I want to win so bad,” Echenique said. “You just have to make winning plays and do things that help your team win. If I have to take a charge, block shots, get a rebound, I am happy to do the little things to help my team win.”
3. Cold in Charleston no more
Less than 24 hours after WSU scored 53 points on 30.8 percent shooting, the Shockers nearly matched that in the first half alone. WSU finished with 82 points and made 50.8 percent of its shots against Appalachian State.
“The difference was we executed down the stretch,” Marshall said. “We made a couple nice plays, we knocked down some free throws, we scored, where last night we couldn’t score at the end.”
McDuffie (7 of 12), Jamarius Burton (6 of 8) and Echenique (5 of 7) all delivered efficient outings to help the Shockers offense to score 1.16 points per possession and limit their turnovers to a season-low 11.
“It was all about having a sense of urgency,” McDuffie said. “Not focusing on the score, but huddling the team together and settling down. That’s one good thing that we do. I think that kind of calms the team down. You’ve got a lot of young guys, you just got to show them some love and tell them they got this.”
4. Every win is a blessing
A win over Appalachian State would not register for a WSU team the last eight years the way it did on Friday for this Shockers team.
Marshall pointed out afterward that WSU plays a difficult schedule, and every win should be celebrated.
“Every win is going to be very, very difficult, and it’s something that we appreciate and we’re going to work extremely hard to get,” Marshall said. “The key is getting better every game, and since we’ve been in Charleston, even though we’re 1-1, we have seen improvement in our team. (Thursday) it was the defense. (Friday) it was our execution down the stretch.”
WSU also had brief contributions from Rod Brown (two rebounds and a steal) and Chance Moore (two points), two players who didn’t play in WSU’s game the previous day.
“I just love seeing my team win,” WSU freshman Udeze said. “It doesn’t matter how we do it or how it looks, we just want to win.”
5. ‘We weren’t going to hang our head’
For the first time this season, Marshall sensed his young team start to hang their heads.
It came during a seven-minute stretch where WSU’s offense went cold and Appalachian State had just rallied to take a 62-61 lead going into a media timeout.
“I was disappointed during that stretch because we hung our head,” Marshall said. “I let them know in that timeout we weren’t going to hang out head. We weren’t going to have any of that. That’s the first time I’ve seen that this year and it went away very quickly. Maybe I needed a timeout, but I didn’t call it with the media coming. They were able to snap out of it.”
Marshall credited his two seniors, McDuffie and Samajae Haynes-Jones, in talking with the team on court following the timeout to reinforce the message.
“There’s going to be ups and downs all year long,” Marshall said. “But hopefully there will be more ups as the season goes along and less downs.”