There was a palpable sense of anxiety bubbling up inside Koch Arena when the buzzer for the under-12 minute media timeout in the second half sounded with Wichita State trailing Tulsa by six.
Mental lapses had piled up, as the Shockers had squandered a four-point halftime lead. There were excruciating misses next to the rim, careless turnovers and a failure to come up with any loose balls.
All of the above were on coach Gregg Marshall’s mind when addressing WSU during the timeout.
“That was not a fun timeout,” Marshall said. “We were too stagnant. We were stagnant pursuing the basketball, we were stagnant in our offense. I wasn’t pleased at all with how we were playing.”
But in the final 10 minutes and 30 seconds, WSU grabbed 13 of 16 total rebounds and outscored Tulsa 27-8 en route to a 79-68 victory on Saturday to improve to 10-11 overall and 3-6 in the American Athletic Conference.
Here’s an inside look at what changed for the Shockers:
WSU headed to the bench for the under-12 timeout with negative momentum. The stagnant play had returned to WSU’s offense and the poor possessions quickly caught up with the Shockers, as Tulsa rallied past to take the lead.
The message from coaches on the sideline can only go so far for a team. Sometimes, nothing can resonate more than peer-to-peer leadership. In WSU’s time of need, senior Markis McDuffie rose to the occasion to provide the spark.
“I know during the game with a young team there’s going to be ups and downs,” McDuffie said. “At that point, I was just like, ‘Man, we’re not losing this game. I’ll do whatever it takes.’ That’s when it’s time for me as a leader to step up and get these guys going so we can win the game.”
During the timeout, Marshall was incensed over the number of loose balls WSU was failing to win. Marshall likes to tell his players “you don’t get them if you don’t go” and he challenged WSU to start going after more of them. As the team leader, McDuffie felt like he had to lead vocally and by example.
He did just that twice coming up with offensive rebounds down the stretch for easy put-backs to help extend crucial WSU runs. The first put-back came at the tail-end of an 8-0 run that erased the deficit and tied Tulsa at 60, while the second put WSU up 72-64 and extended what became essentially the game-winning 12-0 run.
Both times he was outside of the three-point arc when the shot went up, but McDuffie drifted toward the basket to give himself a chance and it paid off when the ball caromed straight to him both times.
When WSU needed a closer, McDuffie delivered nine of his game-high 27 points in the final 10 minutes.
“I was just tuned into the game and I wanted to do whatever it took to get my team the win,” McDuffie said. “Offensive glass is one of the biggest things for this game that we needed to do and I got a lot of chippies and scored.”
Grabbing loose balls became contagious for WSU, as the Shockers tracked down just about every loose ball in the final 11 minutes. WSU rebounded six of its own eight misses that led to seven second-chance points and collected seven of eight defensive rebounds. The one defensive rebound they missed? Erik Stevenson stripped Tulsa’s DaQuan Jeffries, dove on the ground and wrestled away the loose ball for a steal.
“We finally started pursuing the basketball like we have in the past around here, like it’s important,” Marshall said. “Like it’s a steak and we haven’t eaten in awhile.”
If that was the case, then Tulsa coach Frank Haith believed his team went home hungry.
“The game boiled down to one word: toughness,” Haith said. “We were giving up second chances, that’s toughness. We were losing the ball out of bounds, that’s toughness. We go to the line and miss free throws, that’s toughness. When they made a run, we said we weren’t going to take quick shots and we came down and took quick shots instead of executing our offense, that’s toughness.
“Everything I think we did not do well enough to win the game boils down to that word: toughness.”
What Marshall loved was that it was not just McDuffie winning loose balls for the Shockers. Jaime Echenique had a crucial offensive rebound put-back; Stevenson’s relentless pursuit led to two loose balls; Dexter Dennis came up with one for WSU.
With WSU clinging to the lead late, freshman Jamarius Burton came up with two crucial offensive rebounds that allowed the Shockers to secure the win by running a total of 51 more seconds off the clock.
“That’s what Shocker basketball is all about,” McDuffie said. “We have a lot of fans who have our back and they love that type of stuff. When we do that stuff, the crowd gets loud and you can’t even hear yourself speak. That just boosts our confidence. When it was crunch time, we handled our business.”