Wichita State built a 33-point lead, nearly lost it, then held on for a 71-63 victory over Baylor at Koch Arena on Saturday night.
The Shockers (4-3) won back-to-back games for the first time this season, as they defeated the first Big 12 opponent at Koch Arena since 2010. Senior Samajae Haynes-Jones notched first his career double-double of 21 points and 10 rebounds, while Erik Stevenson scored 18 and Markis McDuffie had 15.
Here are five highlights from the win:
1. ‘I think Coach Marshall and I both had heart attacks’
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WSU and Baylor are two of the most inexperienced teams in college basketball this season, which was evident by the play on Saturday.
The Bears, relying mostly this season on transfers, were completely out of their element playing in their first true road game, while WSU’s core of freshmen became complacent with the 33-point lead.
“You saw two young teams out there and that youth was definitely on display,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “I think Coach Marshall and I both had heart attacks a couple of times in the game.”
“I’ve got to figure out what he said to his team in the second half and he’s got to figure out what I said to my team before the game,” Marshall said. “Then we would have one heck of a team.”
Marshall warned his team at halftime the game was not over, even with WSU leading 44-15. The coach was disappointed that the younger players on the team didn’t heed his warning.
Baylor trimmed a 31-point deficit early in the second half to 19 after seven minutes. It cut the lead to 60-51 with 4:11 remaining, then had a chance to make it a one-possession game with three minutes remaining.
“I have no idea when it struck each individual,” Marshall said. “I would love to be able to read their minds and know when Dexter Dennis thought, ‘Wow, this game’s really not over,’ when Erik Stevenson thought, ‘Wow, this game’s really not over.’
“It would be a great study. I’m still coaching as if the game is tied at halftime, but the young people now we’re dealing with, for whatever reason, didn’t.”
Stevenson admitted that the team’s demeanor shifted after such a dominant opening 20 minutes. WSU was outscored 48-27 in the second half.
“You’re always told the game’s not over,” Stevenson said. “You always got to step on their neck and play harder and keep the gas pedal going. The first 20 minutes, it’s 44-15 and you’re looking at that score and it’s like you should easily win this game. I think we looked at that score and came out with a mindset of, ‘Yeah, we can play good, but we don’t have to play as hard as we need to win the game.’ That turned out not to be the case. That’s a Division I team, a Big 12 team, a big, athletic team and they proved that the second half.”
It was a learning lesson for both teams, as Drew echoed some of Marshall’s sentiments after WSU lost its season-opener to Louisiana Tech.
“At the end of the day, you can explain, you can teach, you can talk, but until you personally go through it, sometimes that’s the best learning tool,” Drew said.
Despite the poor job by WSU protecting its lead in the second, the first 20 minutes was a peak behind the curtains of the potential this team possesses.
“It was the first time we collectively as a unit looked like we were ready for the prime time,” McDuffie said. “We’re only going to keep getting better and I think if we continue to do that, we’re going to go a long way this year, more than what people expect.”
2. ‘Samajae did have that look’
Haynes-Jones’ electric night began early in the first half.
The Wichita native brought the crowd to its feet and forced Drew to burn a timeout after he crossed over Baylor defender Makai Mason so badly that Mason was four feet to the left of Haynes-Jones when he elevated and swished his second straight three of the game for a 10-0 lead.
Haynes-Jones made a career-high six three-pointers in the game, while he also registered a career-high 10 rebounds.
“Samajae did have that look,” Marshall said. “He was very, very confident. It’s really gratifying for me to see that young man play that well in a such a big game.”
For a 2-minute, 41-second stretch midway through the first half, Haynes-Jones and Stevenson bombed Baylor for six combined three-pointers to engineer an 18-3 run to boost WSU’s lead from 16 to 31.
Haynes-Jones would sink a three, then Stevenson would follow with back-to-back threes. Haynes-Jones made his own pair of threes before Stevenson capped the run with his final three to tie the shoot-off between teammates at three apiece.
“Whenever he puts a good move on and makes a shot, he gets me going,” Stevenson said. “I feel like my next shot is going in, you can pass me the ball, period.”
Haynes-Jones and Stevenson combined to make 14 of 30 (47 percent) field goals and 9 of 19 (47 percent) three-pointers; the rest of WSU combined for 12 of 36 (33 percent) field goals and 1 of 13 (8 percent) three-pointers.
It was a season-high scoring performance by Haynes-Jones, but he said the victory was more satisfying to him.
“It felt good, but for us to come out with the win is bigger for us,” Haynes-Jones said.
3. ‘We knew what they were going to run’
The dominant defensive performance in the first half was credited to the scouting report prepared by WSU assistant coach Lou Gudino.
WSU’s defense registered stops on 18 of Baylor’s first 20 possessions, as the Shockers buried Baylor in a 22-4 deficit. The Shockers produced 24 defensive stands in the first half, a season-high number. Baylor shot 21.4 percent (6 of 28) from the field and committed nine turnovers.
Baylor scored a season-low 0.88 points per possession and posted a season-low 40.3 effective field-goal percentage.
“We had them down. We knew what they were going to run,” Marshall said. “You have to (have a great scouting report) if you’re going to beat a team like this. They’re very well-coached and they have a lot of actions. In the first half, we were on point because the defense was in front of (the WSU bench) and we could help them.”
The players said Gudino’s details from the scouting report allowed them to prevent Baylor from running its actions where it wanted to run them. As a result, WSU turned Baylor into a jump-shooting team (17 of Baylor’s first-half shots were jump shots) and the Bears made just 1 of 17 jump shots in the first half.
McDuffie said Gudino will pepper the players with information throughout the week in practice. If he knows a WSU player will be guarding a certain player on the opposing team, he’ll tailor his critiques to that matchup.
“He always provides a good scout, in-depth and details,” Stevenson said. “We knew what they were going to do. We knew what each individual was going to do. That helped us get those 18 of 20 stops. We knew that they had little flaws in their game, just like we have flaws in our game. and we took advantage of them.”
4. ‘I guess it was my turn’
Dexter Dennis is regarded as the best dunker on WSU, but McDuffie has claim to the season’s best dunk.
The play started when WSU’s defense forced a turnover and Jamarius Burton scooped up the steal and threw ahead to Jamie Echenique, who swiveled and laid a pass off to McDuffie for a sure slam dunk early in the second half.
The degree of difficulty was raised when Baylor guard Makai Mason, who is listed at 6-foot-1, jumped to challenge the 6-7 McDuffie at the rim. The result was McDuffie elevating over Mason and throwing down a right-handed slam over him on top of a foul.
“We’re still waiting for Dexter to get one, but I guess it was my turn,” McDuffie said. “I didn’t think he was going to jump. I saw Jaime standing in a certain position where I knew he was going to pass it to me, so I knew I was going to go up with that one.”
The dunk sent WSU into hysterics.
Teddy Allen stared wide-eyed in disbelief from the bench. Haynes-Jones thumped McDuffie in the chest, then danced away. All the while McDuffie remained stoic, not cracking a smile until Stevenson finally got to him and tried to elicit some kind of celebration out of him.
“He tried to play it off,” Stevenson said. “When it finally died down, I looked at him and was like, ‘Flex your muscle or something. You got to do something.’
“He caught a body, man.”
5. ‘This is a perfect situation’
Nearly blowing a 33-point lead doesn’t sound like a great thing on the surface, but Marshall said afterward that it actually was the “perfect” teaching tool.
“We didn’t lose the game and there’s still a lot I’ll be able to talk about to try to get them better, especially in that second half,” Marshall said. “And there’s a lot of positives I can show them from the first half when they were playing really well. It’s a really perfect scenario for me from a coaching perspective.”
One of the biggest positives was WSU out-rebounding Baylor by seven, 44-37, as it grabbed 40 percent of offensive rebounds and limited Baylor to 32 percent. That was highlighted by freshman Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler, who played nine minutes off the bench and grabbed three offensive rebounds and logged three assists.
Marshall was put in a tough spot when freshman Morris Udeze picked up his second foul just seven minutes into the game. That forced Poor Bear-Chandler, who had only played eight total minutes this season, into action to spell Echenique at center.
“He gave us some big minutes tonight and improved his stock,” Marshall said. “He got some rebounds, kept some balls alive, kept kicking it out for threes. Our bench got longer tonight in a good way.”
There will be plenty of lessons to be learned from the second half, but the one in particular Marshall had in mind during his press conference was for freshman Dexter Dennis.
Dennis lashed out early in the second half and was slapped with a flagrant one foul. During the start of a Baylor possession, Dennis was caught in the ribs on a pick. A few seconds later, Dennis, frustrated by the no-call, retaliated by steamrolling through Baylor’s next screen on the same possession.
After referees reviewed the play, the common foul on Dennis was upgraded to a flagrant one.
“I was very disappointed in him reacting and getting the flagrant one,” Marshall said. “He’s such a great kid. He lost his head a little bit because they chicken-winged him and he took a shot to the ribs. I haven’t seen him do anything like that. When you do that, especially you, who is calm and solid and level-headed and makes great decisions, when you do that it sends a message to the rest of the team. ‘Hey, Dexter just lost his cool, we must have this game in the bag because he wouldn’t do that kind of thing.’ It kind of permeated through our squad. Another lesson our young team can learn from.”
Lessons learned in wins are the best kind, especially when it’s a win over a Big 12 opponent.
Marshall took time in his press conference to praise Drew for playing WSU on its home court, more than most big-name opponents are willing to do with the Shockers.
“I think he has done the best turnaround in the last 25 years in college basketball,” Marshall said. “Taking over that program when he did to the point where he is now. People forget how down that program was. So for him to bring his team into Koch Arena and start a series with us, my hat is off to him. He’s got my respect and my admiration.”