Wichita State ended the nation’s longest home winning streak last season and through 30 minutes of Saturday night’s game at Houston, the Shockers looked like they were going to halt the No. 17-ranked Cougars’ 28-game home winning streak at the newly-renovated Fertitta Center.
A four-point play by WSU senior Markis McDuffie had the Shockers in front by one with 10 minutes remaining, but the Shockers couldn’t hold off a surging Houston team that won 79-70. The home winning streak survived and Houston (16-1) improved to 3-1 in American Athletic Conference play.
After spending eight years as college basketball’s best road team, which included halting No. 5 Cincinnati’s 39-game winning streak last season, Wichita State is now 0-4 in road games this season with all losses coming by at least nine points. The Shockers (7-8) lost their fourth straight game and are off to their first 0-3 start in conference since the 2008-09 team started 0-6 in the Missouri Valley.
It was once again WSU’s seniors that led the way, as McDuffie scored a game-high 22 points and Samajae Haynes-Jones added 14 points as the only two Shockers in double-digit scoring. WSU finished shooting 38.9 percent (21 of 54) from the field with 15 turnovers against Houston.
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The Cougars had four scorers in double-figures with senior Corey Davis Jr. leading the way with 20 points.
When WSU took a 56-55 lead on McDuffie’s four-point play, Houston responded with a three-point barrage. Armoni Brooks swished a three, then Davis Jr. followed with back-to-back treys to bury the Shockers in a 66-57 hole in less than three minutes.
“Seems like a broken record: we play well for 20 minutes or so, then things don’t go our way and we can’t right the ship,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said.
WSU had one final run, as McDuffie connected on clutch back-to-back three-pointers in the final three minutes, then stole the ball, which led to a free throw, to cut Houston’s lead to 75-70 with 1:04 remaining. But the Shockers had to foul, Houston’s DeJon Jarreau made both free throws, and McDuffie missed a contested two-pointer.
“The Wichita State kids came in ready to play,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “Having a week off really helps a program like Wichita State. I was a bit worried about this game.
“Coach Marshall had a great plan and his kids played really hard. I’d much rather have a kid that hates to lose than a kid who wants to win. Everybody wants to win. They like how winning sounds, but I’d rather have a kid who hates to lose.”
It didn’t take long for Houston to rebound after WSU took a 38-33 advantage into halftime, the first time this season in four tries the Shockers have led on the road at halftime.
“We haven’t completed a 40-minute game yet,” WSU freshman Dexter Dennis said. “We were up at halftime on a good team, but at the end of the day, we still lost.
“We just have to grow up and start finishing these games. It’s simple.”
Houston drilled three three-pointers during a 14-0 run and took a 48-40 lead with 14:08 remaining. But much like it did in its last road game at Memphis, WSU did not fold.
McDuffie stopped the run when he was fouled on a three-point attempt and made all three of his free throws, then Haynes-Jones stole a pass off the press and scored another basket. Asbjorn Midtgaard then scored just his fifth basket to cut Houston’s lead to 48-47.
WSU traded basket for basket with Houston until McDuffie took a Midtgaard hand-off, drained a three and was fouled in the process. He completed the four-point play to give WSU a 56-55 lead with 10:55 remaining. It would be the last lead WSU had.
“It just shows what we’re capable of,” McDuffie said. “We’ve just got to get over the hump. This season is not over. We’re 0-3, but we got 15 more games left. We can turn this around. We’re a good team, it’s just a matter of time.”
Wichita State’s strong play began right from the start, as Dennis connected on a three and Haynes-Jones finished on two lay-ups for a 7-2 lead on Houston.
But even more impressive, WSU was able to absorb an 11-0 run by Houston that had the announced sell-out crowd roaring and the Cougars up 13-7 early. Dennis ended the run with an offensive rebound put-back, then WSU made its biggest run of the first half minutes later.
It started with a sky-scraping three-pointer from Jaime Echenique to kick off an 13-2 rally in less than four minutes. Haynes-Jones bailed the Shockers out of a late shot-clock jam with a swished three, Echenique passed out of a double-team to find an open McDuffie for a lay-in, McDuffie canned his own three, then Haynes-Jones capped the run with another successful attack at the rim.
By the time it was over, WSU had gone from three points down to up 29-21 with 7:31 remaining in the first half.
“We were talking, we were moving, and we were playing hard,” WSU freshman Jamarius Burton said. “I’m good if we go out there and play hard like that. I felt like we left it all on the court.
“That’s a step in the right direction because we fought hard until the end. There were plays that didn’t go our way, but we left it all out there and that’s all you can ask for.”
Houston closed to as close as 31-29, but freshman Erik Stevenson snapped out of his shooting slump and made his first three-pointer in five games and since Dec. 15. The next possession, McDuffie bullied his way for a basket and that allowed the Shockers to take a 38-33 lead into halftime.
It was one of the most impressive halves played by the Shockers this season. On offense, WSU was able to score a healthy 1.06 points per possession against one of the nation’s best defenses. On defense, the Shockers held Houston’s dynamic scoring duo Davis Jr. and Armoni Books to a combined eight points on 3-of-14 shooting.