The longest road drought for the Wichita State men’s basketball team in 18 years is over.
It took until Feb. 6, but the Shockers conquered their road woes on Wednesday in a 65-49 victory over East Carolina at Minges Coliseum to register their first road win of the season. WSU had lost its six prior road games by an average margin of 16.8 points, but its defense recorded a new season-low in points allowed on Wednesday.
The victory allowed WSU to match its season-long winning streak of three games, as it pulled into a tie with Connecticut for eighth place in the American Athletic Conference with a 4-6 record. WSU also has its first non-losing overall record (11-11) since Jan. 16 with the conference’s bottom team, Tulane, coming to Koch Arena on Saturday.
Senior Samajae Haynes-Jones scored a game-high 18 points, making his first seven shots and finishing 7 of 9 from the field. Fellow senior Markis McDuffie scored 14 points and junior Jaime Echenique finished with eight points and 10 rebounds, the most rebounds he’s grabbed since Dec. 15. Asbjorn Midtgaard grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds. In a return to his home state, freshman Jamarius Burton, a Charlotte native, finished with four assists and no turnovers.
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WSU used its size advantage to cash in with rebounds, as its two centers, Echenique and Midtgaard, grabbed eight combined offensive rebounds and WSU had 15 total in a 19-rebound edge over ECU.
That allowed the Shockers to make up for 39-percent shooting, while they held ECU to less than 35 percent from the field and 29 percent on three-pointers.
It only took WSU 66 seconds to accomplish more than it did in 80 minutes in its last road swing: gain a lead.
A 2-0 lead would be inconsequential for Shocker teams of the past, but this one needed to take baby steps. However small it seemed, scoring the first basket of the game seemed to set the tone that this game would be different after WSU failed to score a point before the first media timeout in its last two road games.
It was the first lead WSU held in the last 90 minutes it had played on the road. This time, the Shockers protected a lead.
WSU created its first separation in the game with an 8-0 run midway through the first half, highlighted by Ricky Torres’ first three-pointer since Dec. 19 for a 17-11 lead with 10:25 remaining.
Less than three minutes later, WSU ripped off another 8-0 run to build a 27-15 lead. The team’s two seniors powered the way, as Haynes-Jones drilled a three-pointer to start the run and McDuffie capped the run with two free throws following an offensive rebound put-back.
Echenique and Midtgaard once again won the matchup battle against a team that started a 6-foot-6 center in freshman Jayden Gardner, who entered averaging 18.3 points and 9.2 rebounds. The size and length of Echenique and Midtgaard led to WSU controlling the rebounding battle in the first half, as the duo grabbed five of WSU’s seven offensive rebounds that helped the Shockers out-rebound ECU by six, 21-15.
But it was WSU’s defense on Gardner, ECU’s freshman sensation, that allowed the Shockers to control the first half. WSU coach Gregg Marshall didn’t like the matchup for a bigger player like Echenique or Midtgaard, who are slower and might struggle to contain Gardner’s explosion. He entered Wednesday averaging eight fouls drawn per game with 179 free throw attempts, the second-most in the country.
Instead, Marshall found success with freshman wing Dexter Dennis covering Gardner. Dennis proved to be strong enough to battle with Gardner in the post and for rebounding position, while quick enough to bottle him up on aggressive drives. The end result was Gardner going into halftime with five points, two rebounds and one free throw shot. He finished with 11 points, five rebounds and six free throws.
Meanwhile, Haynes-Jones and McDuffie each scored nine points and the Shockers took a 34-20 lead into halftime.
ECU made a feeble attempt at a comeback early in the second half, as a 6-0 run allowed the Pirates to cut WSU’s lead to 38-29 with 15:46 remaining. But McDuffie answered the next possession with a run-stopping three-pointer, as WSU’s sustained a double-digit lead for the remainder of the game.
WSU’s lead grew to as many as 21 points, courtesy of freshman Erik Stevenson making all three of his free throws following a foul beyond the arc, then back-to-back jumpers from Haynes-Jones and a three-pointer from Dennis.
While ECU’s 2-8 record in conference play did not seem threatening, the Pirates did hand conference-leading Cincinnati its lone loss of the season in a 73-71 victory at Minges Coliseum on Jan. 5.
Feb. 6 was the longest WSU has gone without a road win since the 2000-01 season in Mark Turgeon’s first year when the Shockers lost all 12 road games.