It was the Charleston comeback that almost was.
Wichita State trailed by double digits at halftime and rallied to tie the score in the second half, but the Shockers’ comeback bid fell short in an 90-86 victory by Alabama in the fifth-place game of the Charleston Classic on Sunday at TD Arena.
It spoiled another excellent effort by senior Markis McDuffie, who poured in 26 points, and freshman Dexter Dennis, who scored a career-high 19 points off the bench. The Shockers (2-3) finished the week 1-2 in Charleston, while Alabama improved to 4-1.
WSU’s offense made 46.8 percent of its field goals and made 20 of 25 free throws, but its defense struggled to slow down Alabama. Kira Lewis and John Petty combined for 43 points to lead the Crimson Tide, which made 51 percent of their shots and 31 of 33 free throws.
After the Shockers had trailed for 26 minutes, Dennis had his breakthrough moment as a freshman to finally get WSU over the hump.
It started when he caught a Samajae Haynes-Jones air ball, then finished with the foul for a three-point play. He tacked on another free throw, finished above the rim over a defender for a layup, then drilled a corner three to bring WSU level with Alabama, 69-69, with 7:15 remaining.
Alabama had the answer, however, as the Crimson Tide used an 8-2 burst to restore a six-point cushion.
WSU would cut the deficit to four points multiple times in the final four minutes, but never closer. The Shockers’ best chance came with the ball, trailing 83-78 with less than two minutes, but Haynes-Jones missed a floater with 1:20 remaining.
The Shockers had another chance when Jaime Echenique wrestled the ball away from Petty and drew a foul, but he split his free throws to cut Alabama’s lead to 83-79 with 48 seconds left. WSU fouled and Alabama made two free throws, then Haynes-Jones scored a layup to close the gap to 85-81 with 22 seconds left.
Alabama made both of its free throws again, then Haynes-Jones scored a three-point play with 11 seconds left to cut Alabama’s lead to 87-84. Alex Reese made 1 of 2 free throws with seven seconds left to push the lead to four. Ricky Torres made a pair of free throws with less than a second left, but there was not enough time left for WSU.
Working out of a 12-point hole to begin the second half, WSU came to life behind another tremendous scoring performance by McDuffie. The senior was aggressive attacking the basket and was even fouled twice shooting three-pointers.
But the highlight of WSU’s eventual climb back into the game came when Ricky Torres found a streaking Asbjorn Midtgaard on a fast break and the 7-footer from Denmark threw down a ferocious slam dunk to cut Alabama’s lead to 58-52 with 13:31 remaining in the second half.
Alabama set the tone early, making five of its first six three-pointers to jump out to a 27-16 lead over the Shockers in the game’s first 10 minutes. For a team shooting less than 31 percent beyond the arc entering the game, it was a surprising performance. But too many times did WSU lose Alabama’s lone sharpshooter, John Petty Jr., and he made the Shockers pay with three first-half triples.
The lone answer WSU had was McDuffie, who scored 14 first-half points on six shots. When WSU fell behind by 13, McDuffie scored on a driving layup, drew a foul on a three-pointer and completed a three-point play on a finish and foul to help spur WSU during a 14-4 run to cut Alabama’s lead to 33-30 with 4:19 remaining.
WSU’s large contingent in Charleston was on its feet, ready to explode as the Shockers challenged the lead. WSU appeared ready to make another defensive stand when Herbert Jones missed a layup, but WSU freshman Erik Stevenson, who earned his first career start, was unable to corral the rebound. Given a second chance, Petty made WSU pay by drilling a three to flip the momentum.
It kicked off a disastrous final three minutes of the half for WSU, which went from four points down to 12 down, 46-34, by halftime. WSU missed all three of its field goals and committed a costly turnover trying to break the full-court press to hold for the final shot, directly leading to an Alabama layup.