Wichita State survived in the final minute for a 63-60 victory over Southern Mississippi at Intrust Bank Arena on Saturday.
The Shockers (6-4) won their second straight game and ended their two-year slide in the Intrust Bank Arena game, while Southern Mississippi fell to 7-3.
WSU was led by the first career double-double from junior center Jaime Echenique, who scored a career-high 17 points and tied his career-high with 11 rebounds. Seniors Markis McDuffie added 17 points and eight rebounds, while Samajae Haynes-Jones scored 11.
Here are the takeaways from the Shockers’ latest uneven performance:
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A win that didn’t feel like a win — Here is a brief summary of everything that happened in the final 60 seconds of the game: Southern Miss. completed a 17-point comeback to take a one-point lead; WSU re-took the lead; Southern Miss. gave up two offensive rebounds, but WSU couldn’t capitalize and missed two free throws to keep Southern Miss. alive; WSU fouls a three-point shooter, up three, with less than a second to play; the said three-point shooter is injured on the play and can’t shoot the free throws; WSU gets to pick the foul shooter and Southern Mississippi misses all three free throws.
WSU coach Gregg Marshall summarized the mood on the team best after the dust settled.
“We won the game, but it doesn’t feel like a win the way we played,” Marshall said.
“We made a lot of bad mistakes,” WSU senior McDuffie said. “A lot of things not usual for a high-level Division I basketball team to make those type of mistakes. We’re either really good or really bad right now. We have to balance that and that’s all mental.”
Although WSU led by eight at halftime, the lead could have been doubled if WSU had finished on four point-blank shots it missed at the rim.
Even Southern Miss. coach Doc Sadler joked with Marshall coming back out of the locker rooms at halftime.
“Sometimes coaching is way overrated,” Sadler said he told Marshall. “He needs to go back and work on uncontested layups because he got his team about 10 uncontested layups and they didn’t make any of them.”
That left Marshall speechless.
“Doc jokingly asked me why my guys were out there shooting three-pointers,” Marshall said. “They needed to be doing two-line layups. It’s kind of like you’re coaching eighth-graders, or seventh-graders, or maybe even fifth-graders.
“We’ve got to make layups. A lot of points we left on the board with just shoddy passing and weak finishes.”
Many of the errant passes that left Marshall shaking his head happened in the second half. It was quite unusual to see point guard Ricky Torres, who entered the game with five turnovers in nine games, commit so many careless mistakes.
Torres finished with six turnovers for the game, while Echenique had three and freshman Erik Stevenson also had three. In all, WSU committed 15 turnovers, a number that Marshall didn’t believe afterward.
“It felt like 50,” Marshall said. “Some of them were just gross. I don’t know what we’re going to do. I don’t know how to coach that. We’ll just have to figure it out.”
WSU had a chance to finish the game when Morris Udeze made his first free throw for a 62-60 lead with 18 seconds left then missed his second shot, only for Stevenson to tip the ball out to retain the possession. But McDuffie split his pair of free throws with 14 seconds, and that kept Southern Mississippi within three points.
On the final possession, Haynes-Jones initially played good defense that forced Southern Mississippi guard Tyree Griffin into a difficult step-back three-pointer. But instead of letting Griffin shoot an off-balanced shot, Haynes-Jones let his momentum carry into Griffin on the contest, and Haynes-Jones was whistled for the foul.
“I felt like I contested good,” Haynes-Jones said. “He did what he did, and the refs called it. It is what it is.”
But Griffin fell hard on his left elbow and couldn’t take the free throws with 0.7 remaining to attempt to tie the game. That meant Marshall was allowed to choose the free-throw shooter from the other four players who were on the court.
After a quick glance at his stats on Southern Miss., Marshall picked junior Leonard Harper-Baker, who was a 67-percent free-throw shooter entering the game and 1 for 4 from the line in the game. Harper-Baker missed the first, then the second, then intentionally missed the third to end the game.
“It shouldn’t have come down to that,” Sadler said. “We gave up an offensive rebound two times and got ourselves in a position where we needed a three instead of a two. We didn’t execute what we were supposed to do, but we still got a foul.
“With 0.7 seconds left at Wichita State and a chance to tie, you’ll take that opportunity every time.”
Game-winner provides redemption for Torres, Echenique — A panic spread throughout Intrust Bank Arena the moment Dominic Magee laid the ball in with ease to give Southern Mississippi a 60-59 lead with 1:01 remaining.
Not even 10 minutes before, the Shockers were up 16 and appeared on the cusp of a blowout victory. Taking a loss by blowing that kind of lead could have been crippling to a young team like WSU, in desperate need of as much confidence as possible.
Those were the stakes when Marshall took a timeout with 54 seconds left. He had a minute to instill confidence in the same players who had just missed shots, committed turnovers and allowed a 17-point lead to vanish.
“These kids are going to make these mistakes, yet they’re going to be out there and they’re still kids and then you need them to make a play,” Marshall said. “All of the errors and all of the mismanagement, you’ve got to keep them going.”
In the other huddle, Sadler was faced with a tough decision.. The 2-3 zone defense had propelled Southern Mississippi back into the game and at one point had generated 10 straight stops, but the Golden Eagles had just given up an offensive rebound in the zone.
“I wanted to go back to man-to-man because I knew Gregg would come back with something, but I didn’t,” Sadler said afterward.
What Sadler did was disguise Southern Mississippi’s defense to make it look like a man defense when WSU inbounded, but then morph back to a 2-3 zone. This deception worked, at least initially, because WSU didn’t set a single screen, make a single hard cut or make a single dangerous pass 15 seconds into the possession.
But all it took was a momentary lapse on Southern Mississippi’s back line to spell disaster. Leonard Harper-Baker, the 6-5 junior manning the middle of Golden Eagles’ zone, took two steps the wrong way, leaving the backside defender, 6-2 guard Cortez Edwards, with the task of trying to keep WSU’s 6-11 center Echenique off the block.
With Harper-Baker preoccupied, Echenique sealed the much smaller guard, and pointed to the sky to signal to WSU point guard Torres he was ready for the lob. Keep in mind, this was a post who had three turnovers because he couldn’t catch the ball calling for an alley-oop pass from a guard who had six turnovers because he couldn’t make an accurate pass.
This would essentially decide WSU’s fate, but in this moment, with the game on the line, Torres threw the perfect pass and Echenique re-directed the lob into the basket for a 61-60 lead. It wasn’t what WSU had drawn up or even necessarily a look that WSU usually gets. It was a spur-of-the-moment play that proved to be the game-winning play.
“We know it was ugly and it got ugly, but there was no time to hold our heads down,” McDuffie said. “We still had a chance to win. I don’t think we were looking at Jaime, that’s just Ricky making a great, clutch play at the end.”
No lead is safe with these Shockers — After they nearly blew a 33-point lead over Baylor earlier this season, the Shockers allowed a 17-point lead in the second half to slip away against Southern Miss. before rallying in the final minute to salvage the victory.
Once WSU took a 52-36 lead with 10:46 remaining, WSU’s offense went 10 straight possessions without points. The six-minute drought was ended by Stevenson, who had been 0 for 8, with his first made shot of the game, a corner three that pushed WSU’s lead to 55-50.
“Every time we think we’re getting better, we’re looking good, the next thing you know we lose our minds,” McDuffie said. “We’re 10 games in, there’s no reason why we should still be struggling like this. We grinded out a win. All you can do is get better from it.”
So what changed when WSU held a comfortable 16-point lead, then promptly went 10 straight possessions without points and gave up 14 unanswered points in that same span?
“We don’t pass the ball precisely, we don’t pass it on time and on target,” Marshall said. “We’ve got to get in the gaps with the dribble or the pass and then if you can’t make a pullup or a layup, then get in there and suck the defense in and throw it to the right guy in rhythm. We have a hard time doing that.”
Marshall also took issue with his senior’s decision-making down the stretch. McDuffie and Haynes-Jones missed all six of their shots in the final 10 minutes and shot 30 percent (9 for 30) combined for the game.
“Samajae and Markis took some very questionable shots,” Marshall said. “It got to be that that same deal again: We’ve got the lead now. When you’re taking shots that are blocked before they even come out of your hand and it’s early or midway through the shot clock, it’s not a good shot. You’re not open. We did some of that.”
Marshall understands the type of inexperience WSU is dealing with this season can explain away some mistakes. But he wasn’t interested in that after the game.
“I get all of that, but that doesn’t make me like it,” Marshall said. “I don’t have to like what I saw the last 10 and a half minutes. I can still be disgusted by the way they played.
“I was very impressed by their comeback and their toughness. Doc has a tough group, especially those guards. They make shots and they compete and man, I wish I had a couple of them.”
Dexter Dennis injury update —The high-flying freshman from Baker, La., suffered what Marshall said after the game is likely a concussion when Dennis was pursuing an offensive rebound early in the second half.
Torres missed a jump shot and Dennis jumped underneath the basket trying to grab the offensive rebound, but was upended on his way down by a Southern Miss. player trying to box him out. On the way down, Dennis was turned completely upside down and landed on his shoulders and head.
Dennis remained down on the floor for several minutes with trainer Todd Fagan tending to him. Dennis eventually walked off the court under his own power, but did not return to the game in the final 17 minutes.
“I think he has a concussion,” Marshall said. “That was a wicked, wicked fall. I saw it on video. I hope (a concussion) is all we have to deal with there.”