The Wichita State men’s basketball team extended its season-best winning streak to four games on Saturday night with a 77-62 victory over Tulane at Koch Arena.
WSU (12-11) has its first winning record in a month and the Shockers moved into sole possession of seventh place in the American Athletic Conference with a 5-6 record.
All of those things are good, but WSU coach Gregg Marshall described it best as calling it a “ho-hum 15-point win at home.”
“You’d much rather have a ho-hum 15-point win than a ho-hum two-point loss,” Marshall said. “We didn’t set the world on fire, we weren’t awful, we were just okay. I don’t think we tipped the meter in any particular direction (Saturday).
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Here is what WSU did well and can build on and what it will need to improve during an eight-day lay-off before the Shockers hit the road for back-to-back games at Cincinnati and at Tulsa.
1. The positives
McDuffie scored a game-high 25 points and became WSU’s all-time leading career three-point shooter for forwards with four more triples on Saturday.
It’s been an impressive comeback for McDuffie, who just a year ago was struggling after returning from a foot injury. Now he’s leading in the AAC scoring at 18.9 points and making 39-percent of his three-pointers.
“A lot can change in one year,” McDuffie said. “I went through one of my toughest times in my four years last year. I wasn’t healthy and my legs weren’t under me. But I knew me choosing to come back this year and becoming a leader of this team, I was going to be just fine.”
On Saturday, McDuffie was seemingly there every time WSU needed a lift.
He reeled off a mini 5-0 run on his own with a three-pointer, a steal and a dunk to give WSU its first separation, 19-14, of the game. He drilled back-to-back threes to extend WSU’s lead to 30-19 in the first half. When Tulane rallied in the second half to trim the deficit to 10 points, it was a McDuffie corner three that restored the cushion and ended the run.
“Markis is somebody we can depend on if we need a basket,” WSU freshman Jamarius Burton said. “I know to find him when in doubt and he’ll take care of the rest.”
“If I want some assists, I’m going to find Mark,” WSU freshman Erik Stevenson said.
WSU knows McDuffie doesn’t have to be wide open to make a shot. All he’s needed this season is an on-time pass and a sliver of space to launch a three. He often has to rescue WSU’s offense late in the shot clock and whenever it hits a stagnant point.
Considering the degree of difficulty, it makes his 39-percent accuracy this season even more impressive, especially considering he shot less than 34 percent in his first three years beyond the arc.
“He’s been tremendous,” Marshall said. “He had one that he forced, but other than that, he looked so good and the guys were doing a good job of finding him.”
With seven games remaining in the regular season, McDuffie (18.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.0 steals) is making a compelling case for first-team honors in the AAC.
WSU played outstanding defense inside the arc, where it held Tulane to 34.4 percent shooting (10 of 29) and just 4 of 13 on layups. As a result, WSU outscored Tulane 30-12 in the paint. The Shockers also turned Tulane over 17 times and converted 15 points off them.
“We let them take us out of our stuff a good portion of the night in terms of spacing and timing on plays,” Tulane coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. said. “They put themselves in position to do that. But my point was that we made bad decisions once we got there.”
2. The negatives
WSU went into halftime with a 41-36 lead over Tulane, but the Shockers hadn’t fully capitalized off how well they were playing on offense.
McDuffie had 18 points by halftime. WSU was shooting 43 percent as a team and had limited its turnovers to two. Against the only winless team in the AAC, that should have translated to better than a five-point lead.
“It was a matter of effort and a little more passion,” Marshall said. “I wasn’t pleased with how we played in the first half.
“They were told how uninspired they were in the first half at halftime.”
WSU responded by forcing turnovers on Tulane’s first three second-half possessions and holding the Green Wave without a point by the first media timeout. In total, Tulane scored three points on its first 14 possessions after halftime and WSU pulled away for a 58-38 lead.
“(Marshall) is a character,” Stevenson said when asked about the halftime speech. “He gets going in the locker room and it’s hard not to get going if he starts getting in you.”
“Coming out of the locker room listening to coach, we knew the first three or four minutes were critical,” Burton added. “In order to pull away, we had to focus on the defensive end and then let the offensive end take care of itself.”
But for a team that was trying to continue to elevate its level of play, it was disappointing that a fiery Marshall halftime speech was required to turn around the players’ efforts.
“That’s my job to make sure these guys are locked in,” McDuffie said. “I have to make sure these guys are ready to get back in the mix. We’ve had a down year in the beginning, but now we’re at a high point and we can’t go back down. We’ve got to keep going up.”
Marshall was also disappointed that WSU failed to execute one of its keys to the game, which was to limit its fouls. Instead, the Shockers reverted back to their old ways and committed 23 fouls. That allowed Tulane to shoot 28 free throws, which generated nearly a third of its offense.
Marshall was frustrated in particular with his top two centers, Jaime Echenique and Asbjorn Midtgaard. They each picked up their second foul of the first half within 13 seconds of each other and when Marshall gambled putting Midtgaard back in, he fouled again chasing needlessly after an offensive rebound. At halftime, WSU’s center position had contributed more fouls (six) than points (four).
WSU was able to do enough for the comfortable win in the end, but there are still details Marshall knows WSU must improve to beat good teams.
“We’re still so young and immature,” Marshall said. “We’ve got o play harder and with a little more energy and passion on the defensive end. I don’t like the way we rebounded. We weren’t coming up with the loose balls we had in the last 10 minutes of Tulsa and the entire East Carolina game. That’s Shocker basketball and that’s what people around here expect and appreciate. We’ve got to do. a better job of that continually because that’s what the good teams in our league do.”