The difference a year can make was on full display Saturday night at Koch Arena.
A year ago, Markis McDuffie was stuck in a comeback attempt from offseason foot surgery. He didn’t look like himself and his shooting numbers reflected it, as he averaged 8.5 points and shot less than 34-percent on three-pointers.
Fast forward to Saturday and McDuffie leads the American Athletic Conference in scoring and has Wichita State on a season-best four-game winning streak following a 77-62 victory over Tulane. WSU improved to 12-11, its first winning record since Jan. 3, and is now in sole possession of seventh place in the AAC with a 5-6 record. Tulane (4-18, 0-10) lost its 11th straight game.
After scoring a game-high 25 points, including four three-pointers, McDuffie is averaging 18.9 points and making 38.5 percent of his threes this season. It was the 10th 20-point game of the season, tied for second-most by a Shocker in the last 20 seasons. McDuffie (133 career threes) also became WSU’s career leader in three-pointers at the forward position, passing Rob Kampman (130) for 13th on the all-time list.
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McDuffie gave WSU its first separation in the game after eight minutes when he splashed in a three-pointer, then capped a mini 5-0 run with a steal and dunk to give WSU a 19-14 lead with 11:26 remaining in the first half.
It looked as if the Shockers were set to pull away in the first half when McDuffie once again provided the spark, swishing in back-to-back three-pointers to push WSU’s lead to 30-19 with 7:35 remaining. But whenever it looked like WSU was about to pull away, careless turnovers or silly fouls would prevent it.
WSU committed 10 first-half fouls, which put Tulane on the foul line 14 times. The Green Wave made 10 of them, which allowed them to stick around in the first half and five three-pointers allowed them to trim WSU’s halftime lead to 41-35.
But the Shockers’ defense came to play to open the second half, as they held Tulane to three points on their first 12 possessions. In the meantime, WSU reeled off a 17-3 run in the first eight minutes to build a 58-38 lead.
Highlights included Ricky Torres dishing to Jaime Echenique for a three-point play on a pick-and-roll, Echenique finishing two other shots at the rim, and Erik Stevenson drilling back-to-back threes to cap the run.
Like other times this season, WSU’s inexperienced group struggled to firmly put the game away.
The offense grew stagnant and the lead dwindled, as the empty possessions began stacking up. By no means did Tulane unleash a scoring flurry, but WSU’s offense went six minutes without scoring and that allowed Tulane to methodically chip away at the lead until it was down to 58-48 with more than six minutes remaining.
It was only fitting for McDuffie to be the one to pull WSU out of its slump by swishing a corner three against Tulane’s zone to beat the shot clock. Tulane cut the deficit to 10 two more times, but WSU had the answer and never allowed its lead to fall under double-digits for the final six minutes.
Stevenson scored 13 points for the Shockers, while senior Samajae Haynes-Jones added 12. Echenique finished with nine points and seven rebounds, while Torres chipped in five assists. WSU made 45 percent of its field goals, while edging Tulane 35-33 in rebounding. The Shockers held Tulane to under 37-percent shooting, while Connor Crabtree and Caleb Daniels both scored 17 points to lead the Green Wave.
The game was a rarity in featuring an NCAA Coach of the Year in WSU’s Gregg Marshall and an NBA Coach of the Year in Tulane’s Mike Dunleavy Sr.
WSU plays just twice in the next two weeks, but both games will be a challenge to the Shockers’ winning streak. WSU will have eight days off before traveling to Cincinnati on Feb. 17, then playing another road game at Tulsa three days later.