Gregg Marshall won his 500th career game in his home state of South Carolina, the Wichita State men’s basketball program won its 20th game for the 10th straight season, and the Shockers survived and advanced.
All of this was courtesy of a 76-70 victory at Furman on Wednesday in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament. The Shockers were just the third team to win at Timmons Arena this season and WSU (20-14) ended the season for a Paladins (25-8) team that won a school-record 25 games.
No. 6 seed WSU advanced to the second round and will play at No. 2 seed Clemson at 1 p.m. Central time Sunday (ESPN) after yet another performance where the Shockers had to dig down and produce some of its best basketball down the stretch.
WSU senior Markis McDuffie was steady throughout, scoring a team-high 20 points, and freshman Erik Stevenson made a handful of timely shots to finish with 12 points off the bench.
But the most entertaining matchup of the game was at center, where Furman had a star in 6-foot-8, 215-pound senior Matt Rafferty, but WSU had the size advantage with its pair of Jaime Echenique (6-foot-11, 258 pounds) and Asbjorn Midtgaard (7-0, 268). Rafferty scored a game-high 27 points, 19 coming in the second half, to go along with eight rebounds, five assists and five steals, but Echenique and Midtgaard combined for 25 points and 20 rebounds.
In an exciting game that featured 12 ties and 14 lead changes, the game essentially boiled down to the final four minutes after the game with the teams knotted at 62 points apiece.
When it mattered the most, WSU scored every time down the floor on its final seven possessions. And the Shockers just about needed every one of them.
McDuffie somehow made a lay-up falling down for a 64-62 lead, but Furman answered with a back-door cut for a dunk. WSU hit Echenique on a pick-and-roll for an alley-oop and a 66-64 lead, but Rafferty came right back with a mid-range jumper to tie the score.
Echenique again scored on a roll for a layup and 68-66 lead, then Furman missed a three-pointer. After dwindling the clock, senior Samajae Haynes-Jones drilled a pull-up, free throw line jumper to give WSU a four-point cushion, 70-66, with 44 seconds left.
Rafferty cut the deficit to two points with 33 seconds, but WSU broke Furman’s press and McDuffie finished a contested layup in transition to restore the lead to four points, 72-68, with 14 seconds left. That was as close as Furman would come.
The Paladins grabbed momentum midway through the second half with back-to-back three-pointers from Clay Mounce and Jordan Lyons that put the Shockers in a 49-45 hole with 12:09 remaining.
Two bench players helped the Shockers recover.
Stevenson, a freshman, made a pull-up three in transition. After a defensive stop, Echenique rebounded a Stevenson miss and dunked for a quick 5-0 spurt that gave WSU a 50-49 lead.
Then junior Ricky Torres came off the bench and hurt Furman in the pick-and-roll game. He turned the corner after one screen, then attacked for a left-handed layup on the right side. Two possessions later, Torres took a Midtgaard screen and pulled up for a mid-range jumper that gave WSU a 56-51 lead with 7:57 remaining.
A running bank shot by Samajae Haynes-Jones gave WSU its largest lead of the game, 60-53, but WSU committed two straight turnovers and Furman scored seven unanswered points, tying the score at 60-60 with five minutes remaining.
The first half saw seven lead changes and eight ties. WSU had reasons to be optimistic and a little frustrated to take a 35-31 lead into halftime on the road.
For starters, the Shockers did an excellent job covering Furman’s star, Rafferty. WSU decided to guard him with Echenique (6-foot-11) and Midtgaard (7-0) and that length and size bothered Rafferty into a poor first half, as he was 4 of 11 from the field for eight points with just one assist.
WSU was also able to exploit its size advantage on both ends. Echenique and Midtgaard combined for 14 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. WSU in whole grabbed eight offensive rebounds and out-rebounded Furman 23-12 in the first half.
The Shockers also probably felt fortunate to be in front with starting guards Haynes-Jones and Dexter Dennis combining for zero points in the first half. Haynes-Jones sat the final 12 minutes with two fouls, while Dennis missed all three of his shots.
But considering WSU made 51.6 percent of its shots, outrebounded Furman by 11 and was holding Rafferty to inefficient scoring, the Shockers could have very well been up by more than four at halftime.
WSU gained the game’s first separation when Stevenson made a pair of tough jumpers, then McDuffie rebounded his own miss and finished on the other side for a 6-0 run that gave WSU a 26-21 lead with 4:59 remaining.
But Furman answered with a 10-2 run after a timeout and the Shockers trailed 31-28 with three minutes remaining.
In a crucial stretch, WSU scored seven unanswered points before halftime. Stevenson drilled a three-pointer, McDuffie slashed to the basket, scored and was fouled. He missed his free throws, but Midtgaard came up with the offensive rebound and then scored on a dump-off pass from Torres just before the halftime buzzer.