Sometimes all it takes is a reminder, at least in Wichita State freshman Dexter Dennis’ case.
The 6-foot-5 freshman from Baker, La. arrived at WSU with a Division I-ready body. He possessed the athleticism, range, length and ability to be a terror for defenses trying to box him out pursuing offensive rebounds.
After coming up empty on the offensive glass against Memphis, Dennis was challenged by WSU basketball coach Gregg Marshall to chase more offensive rebounds and he responded with four second chances and 14 points in Sunday’s 85-81 overtime loss to Temple.
“I told him back in the fall before we started playing games he was going to be a special offensive rebounder,” Marshall said Monday on his coaches’ show. “You’re tenacious, you’re athletic, you’re long and you understand it’s important. But then we get to the season and he stopped doing it, for whatever reason.
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“It’s like you have to press their buttons and program them every time, otherwise they forget.”
On a team that is currently missing 59 percent of its total shots, second chances are invaluable and Dennis gives WSU a rebounding advantage at the small forward position.
He is currently second on the team at 1.7 offensive rebounds per game, but Marshall knows that number can higher. So does Dennis. It’s just a matter of staying locked into the task.
“Coach always tells me you can’t get them if you don’t go,” Dennis said.
What Marshall stresses to Dennis is the value of committing to offensive rebounding. It’s not a coincidence that Dennis’ two best scoring performances have come in the same games in which he’s grabbed four offensive rebounds.
During halftime of the Alabama game, Marshall challenged Dennis and lit a fire under the freshman for the second half. Dennis responded with four offensive rebounds and 19 points, which are still career-highs for him halfway through the season.
Marshall can usually instantly tell what kind of mindset Dennis is in. On the first play of the Temple game, Marshall had called for WSU to look inside for Jaime Echenique. Dennis took a dribble hand-off and was the one who was supposed to throw the entry pass. Instead, Dennis turned the corner and got to the rim and scored.
“I know when he’s aggressive is when he’s driving and he’s continuing to work on that,” Marshall said. “He’s a little too upright. He’s got to get lower, but ultimately he’s going to be very good at that. And when he is, and he gets that three-ball grooved, he’s going to be a tough guy to guard. But the one thing he does really well right now is the offensive glass and when he’s doing that, he’s in his element.”
It’s blatant the games where offensive rebounding is at the forefront of Dennis’ mind. He grabbed four offensive boards against Temple and Alabama, then three against Davidson, Baylor and Jacksonville State.
In the other seven games Dennis has played in, he’s only grabbed three total. That means 85 percent of his offensive rebounds have come in five games.
While those offensive rebounds aren’t always going to directly lead to points for Dennis, many do for him. When he can get those easy put-backs, then that can inject him with the confidence he needs shooting and driving.
They can also lead to crucial second chances for WSU, like when a Dennis offensive rebound helped secure the win over Baylor and the one he grabbed on Sunday and kicked out to Markis McDuffie for a three-pointer to push WSU’s lead to 11 with three minutes left in regulation.
The Shockers (7-7, 0-2 American) are in desperate need of scoring support for the team’s two seniors, McDuffie and Samajae Haynes-Jones, as the team heads into a road game at Houston (15-1, 2-1) on Saturday night.
Dennis is currently averaging 7.5 points, a figure he will be looking to raise this weekend with an aggressive mindset.
“His aggressiveness has been in fits and starts this whole year,” Marshall said. “He was aggressive at the start of the season, then he stopped being aggressive. He had just gotten out of rhythm and I had to remind him to start being more aggressive. He just has to remember he’s not going to get them if he doesn’t go.”