Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said before Friday night’s game against Temple in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament that he hoped his team could have another chance to close out a double-digit lead after losing one in an overtime loss to the Owls earlier this season.
It wasn’t quite an 11-point lead, but this time WSU was able to successfully protect its lead down the stretch in a thrilling 80-74 victory over the Owls at the FedExForum.
The overtime loss to Temple at Koch Arena on Jan. 6 haunted WSU for much of this season, but the sixth-seeded Shockers earned their redemption on a bigger stage on Friday to continue their season and advance to Saturday’s 4 p.m. semifinal against second-seeded Cincinnati.
In a do-or-die game, Wichita State senior Markis McDuffie scored a career-high 34 points and registered his second career double-double with 12 rebounds to keep the season alive for the Shockers, who improved to 19-13 overall and won for the 11th time in its last 13 games. Freshman Dexter Dennis also had his second career double-double with 19 points, the only other player to reach double-digits, and 12 rebounds.
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As the Shockers now try to extend their NCAA Tournament streak, the Owls (23-9) must nervously await their fate on the tournament bubble. Shizz Alston scored a team-high 20 points for Temple.
With an eight-point lead as the clock ticked under four minutes, WSU fans likely nervously watched Dexter Dennis throw a careless turnover and Temple make a three-pointer that trimmed WSU’s lead to 71-68 with 3:43 remaining.
WSU needlessly fouled pursuing rebounds 90 feet away from its basket. After Quinton Rose made his final two free throws, WSU’s lead was down to 73-71 with 1:40 remaining. And then Temple’s best defender, Nate Pierre-Louis, nearly tied up Haynes-Jones for a jump ball that would have given the Owls possession with a chance to take the lead.
But there would be no repeat collapse this time.
Haynes-Jones was able to call timeout, then the senior made a driving layup that pushed WSU’s lead to 75-71 with 1:16 remaining. Alston missed a pull-up three and Dennis was fouled. He made two free throws and WSU led 77-71 with 40 seconds left. Temple never threatened after that.
A frenzied start to the second half saw the Shockers rally to take a four-point lead, but Temple roared back for a 56-54 lead with 12:10 remaining.
That’s when the Shockers had to dig down perhaps deeper than ever this season. Erik Stevenson hit Asbjorn Midtgaard on the roll for a dunk. Dexter Dennis finished a three-point play, then stroked in a jumper. McDuffie followed with four straight free throws. By the time it was over, WSU’s 11-0 run had stretched its lead over Temple to 65-56 with 8:11 remaining.
When Temple chipped away at the lead and trimmed it to 65-61, McDuffie was there for the answer with a strong finish inside.
After torching WSU for 18 first-half points, Alston had just two points and missed all six of his shots in the second half. Finally, his frustrations boiled over after what he thought was a non-call and his words to an official led to a technical. McDuffie made two free throws to extend the lead to 69-61 and Alston furiously exited the game with 4:58 left and sat for a full minute.
WSU’s defense on Alston left plenty to be desired in the first half when the Temple star scorched the Shockers for 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting.
There were times when WSU lost Alston in transition. There were times when the defense on his jumpers was lacking. There was even a time when a defender went under a screen on Alston, who immediately showed why not to do that by drilling an uncontested three on the wing.
But even with Alston doing what he pleased against WSU’s defense, Temple needed his three-pointer just before the buzzer to take a 37-35 lead into halftime.
If WSU coach Gregg Marshall was told before the game that his team would shoot 37.9 percent from the floor and Alston would already have 18 points, he would have been astonished to learn WSU trailed by just two.
The Shockers even led 26-25 with 6:24 remaining when McDuffie saved a basket on the defensive end with a block, then gave WSU its first lead of the game with a pair of free throws. The senior helped WSU keep pace in the first half, scoring 15 points, including three three-pointers and 4-for-4 shooting from the foul line.
But Temple reeled off an 8-0 run and there was a sense of uneasiness when Alston drilled a three in transition to bury WSU in a 33-26 deficit with 4:26 left.
WSU proved resilient. McDuffie scored on a tip-in, then bailed WSU out with an end-of-shot-clock three. Freshman Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler was fouled on a fast break and made two free throws, then found McDuffie leaking out with a pass where McDuffie was fouled. After two free throws from the senior, WSU led 35-34 before Alston gave Temple the halftime lead with his last-second shot.