Boos rained down from Koch Arena, but not because of Wichita State’s play.
Players, coaches and fans alike lost their cool down the stretch of another heated game against Cincinnati because of calls (and non-calls) made by officials in what became a 66-55 loss for WSU on Saturday afternoon.
After being called for 18 of the first 30 fouls, frustrations boiled over with 5:18 remaining in the game when WSU freshman Erik Stevenson was assessed a technical foul for a confrontation with Cincinnati’s Jarron Cumberland. Before Cincinnati could shoot the free throws, WSU coach Gregg Marshall earned his own technical foul arguing with crew chief Pat Adams.
Before the double technical, Cincinnati had shot 17 free throws to WSU’s six. By the end of the game, that disparity had grown to 28 more free throws for the Bearcats, who outscored WSU 25-5 at the free-throw line.
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The refereeing crew of Adams, Marques Pettigrew and Olandis Poole is highly-regarded and all officials are rated in the top-70 nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s referee rankings. Adams and Pettigrew were two-thirds of the crew that ejected both coaches in Connecticut’s Dan Hurley and Tulsa’s Frank Haith from a game last Wednesday.
Cumberland and Justin Jenifer combined for 35 points to power Cincinnati (16-3) to its fourth straight win in the American Athletic Conference and atop the standings, while the Shockers (8-9) dropped to 1-4 in conference play with senior Markis McDuffie scoring a game-high 21 points. The Bearcats are the first team since Southern Illinois in 2009 to win back-to-back games at Koch Arena.
The first 35 minutes saw the teams trade the lead 12 times in a competitive, back-and-forth game. Neither team had more than a two-score lead until the double technical, as Jenifer made all four technical free throws, then Cumberland made both free throws on the original foul call. The six-point possession boosted Cincinnati’s lead to 57-46, an insurmountable lead on a day where neither team shot over 41 percent.
WSU had two rallies left, twice trimming Cincinnati’s lead to six points. The first came when Jaime Echenique scored on an offensive rebound put-back to cut Cincinnati’s lead to 58-52 with 2:35 remaining. The second came when McDuffie drilled a three to cut the deficit to 61-55 with 1:12 remaining.
Neither time could WSU’s defense generate the necessary stop it needed to get back in the game. Cincinnati made 8 of 10 free throws in the final three minutes to protect its lead.
Momentum was shifting away from the Shockers even before the double technical. After WSU roared back to take a 46-45 lead on a three-pointer by Samajae Haynes-Jones, Cincinnati answered back with back-breaking threes at the end of the shot clock by Cumberland and Jenifer to surge ahead, 51-46, with 5:50 remaining.
The foul on Cumberland would have given him a 1-and-1 free throw with the chance to extend the lead. Instead, the Bearcats received six free throws and cashed in on all six.
In retrospect, WSU never found an answer for Cincinnati’s match-up zone. McDuffie was the only player who could create offense, but not even his game-high 21 points on 7 of 14 shooting could save WSU from a poor offensive showing. The rest of the Shockers finished with 34 points on 38 shots and 37-percent shooting.
The Shockers also did themselves no favors in the rebounding department. WSU allowed Cincinnati to grab 43 percent of its offensive rebounds and the Shockers were out-rebounded in total by 12.
WSU made a strong push coming out of halftime with a 5-0 run for a 28-24 lead, but Cincinnati answered back with an 8-0 run of its own. The Shockers went through several possessions of stagnant offense before McDuffie jolted them to life with a step-back three-pointer to halt the run and leave another defender shaking their head in disbelief.
Not even two minutes later, senior Haynes-Jones injected energy into Koch Arena with back-to-back jumpers for a 38-35 lead. After missing his first seven shots of the game, Haynes-Jones finally seeing shots go through the net brought life to the Shockers and forced Cincinnati to call a timeout with 12:38 remaining.
There weren’t enough made baskets by either side to create separation in the first half, as the two teams combined to shoot 37.5 from the field.
WSU looked unsure of how to attack Cincinnati’s zone for its first four possessions, all ending in forced shots just to beat the shot clock. It wasn’t until McDuffie canned a corner three three-and-a-half minutes into the game for the Shockers to snap out of their funk.
The Shockers took their first lead of the game on a three-pointer by freshman Stevenson, who gave WSU a 10-8 advantage with 12:59 remaining. Ricky Torres capped a 7-0 run for a 12-8 lead finishing a right-handed lay-up on the left side while drawing a foul.
But that’s when WSU went through its worst turnover spell of the season, committing a turnover five straight possessions. The Shockers turned it over three times on careless passes, once on a travel violation and another getting stripped going up.
Those frustrations were multiplied by what the Shockers felt like was an uneven whistle. Marshall’s jacket came flying off before the first media timeout and he was still laying into the officials 10 minutes later after WSU had been called for six of the first nine fouls of the game.
That type of adversity might have doomed the Shockers in other games. But in this one, WSU’s defense did well to limit Cincinnati to only take a 14-12 lead after WSU’s flurry of turnovers.
For the second straight game, sophomore Asbjorn Midtgaard provided a lift in the first half. He hit a turnaround jumper late in the shot clock to cut Cincinnati’s lead to 20-19 with 4:11 remaining, then made a hook shot to once again trim Cincinnati’s lead to 22-21 with 2:21 left.
The Shockers took a brief lead before halftime, as McDuffie jumped a passing lane and threw ahead to Stevenson, who finished an acrobatic lay-in for a 23-22 lead with 43 seconds left. But Jenifer scored on a drive and WSU came up empty on its final possession, as the Bearcats took a 24-23 lead into halftime.