When its season was on the line, its 10th straight season of 20 wins on the line, and coach Gregg Marshall’s 500th career win on the line, Wichita State delivered in the clutch.
The Shockers and Furman were tied heading into the final four minutes of their first-round game in the National Invitation Tournament on Wednesday at Timmons Arena. But WSU prevailed with a 76-70 victory because the Shockers scored two points on their final seven possessions of the game.
No. 6 seed WSU (20-14) ended the season of a 25-win Furman team that had only lost two times on its home floor in advancing to the second round of the NIT.
WSU will play at No. 2 seed Clemson (20-13) 1 p.m. Central time Sunday with the game broadcast on ESPN.
“We anticipated it being like this,” Marshall said. “I really knew it was going to be a tough game. They were almost in the NCAA Tournament. You win at Loyola when they’re hanging their Final Four banner and then you win at Villanova, you have a good ball club.
“We beat a good team on the road in a tough environment.”
Here is a breakdown of the five consecutive field goals the Shockers made that secured the victory.
1. McDuffie goes iso with improbable layup
It was improbable for most, but WSU senior Markis McDuffie (team-high 20 points) has shown this season the ability to make all sorts of difficult shots falling down around the rim.
With the score tied at 62 with just under four minutes remaining, Marshall called a clear-out play for McDuffie. He trusted his senior in isolation, so he gave him on the ball on the left wing and cleared out the entire right side of the floor.
McDuffie immediately went into attack mode. Two explosive dribbles to his right and McDuffie’s momentum was carrying him straight out of bounds. It looked like an impossible angle, with McDuffie falling to the ground, but the senior somehow lofted the ball over the outstretched hands of a 6-foot-8 defender and got the ball to kiss off the glass for a 64-62 lead with 3:41 left.
“Just a tremendous finish,” Marshall said. “He doesn’t have great lift, but man, he got in there and found a way to contort his body to get it up there in that square.”
2. Burton finds Echenique on the alley-oop
After Furman tied the score at 64, WSU answered with one of the most important plays of the game.
WSU had exclusively used its ball-screen offense against Furman and found the right combination on this play, with Samajae Haynes-Jones taking a Jaime Echenique ball screen going to his left and McDuffie spotted up in the right corner.
When Haynes-Jones uses Echenique’s screen, he knows Echenique will be open on the roll when Echenique’s defender, Furman’s Matt Rafferty, comes out to the three-point line to head off Haynes-Jones. But the angle isn’t there because Jamarius Burton’s defender has sagged off him on the left wing to clog up the paint where Echenique is rolling.
“It was like that the entire game,” Haynes-Jones said. “I know he was there, but I didn’t want to force it.”
The angle straight on over-the-top wasn’t there, so Haynes-Jones dished off to Burton on the wing to create the angle. As a point guard, Burton understood how the play was developing and saw the same thing that Haynes-Jones saw.
This is where McDuffie comes into the play. His defender is considered the weak-side helper and is usually responsible to at least discourage the ball handler to throw a pass to the rolling big man down the middle of the lane. But because it was McDuffie, WSU’s go-to player who is a knockdown shooter, Furman’s weak-side defender decides to stay attached to McDuffie in the corner.
Remember, Echenique’s defender is out of position because he had to help contain Haynes-Jones on the perimeter. So when McDuffie’s defender doesn’t help, all Burton had to do was make sure he lofted a pass over his defender’s arms to a wide-open Echenique streaking toward the basket.
“I knew if I just got it above my man, then Jaime is going to make the layup,” Burton said. “It’s my assist, but really it’s Samajae’s hockey assist. I had the better angle, so he kicked it over to me and I found Jaime.”
Echenique caught the ball in front of the rim and laid it in all in one motion to give WSU a 66-64 lead with 2:38 remaining.
“I thought Jamarius Burton threw a beautiful pass to give us the lead,” Marshall said. “As a freshman, sometimes his vision isn’t as acute as you would like it to be. But man, that was a great play. A big play.”
3. Haynes-Jones hits Echenique on the roll
There’s now under two minutes left and Furman has answered for the third straight time, tying WSU at 66. But after executing a solid game plan for the first 36 minutes, Furman’s defense failed in the details down the stretch.
When WSU went to its pick-and-roll game, Furman had its weak-side defender in the corner prepared to come off his man and get in front of the rolling big man and chip him to stop his progress.
But when Haynes-Jones and Echenique team up for a pick and roll early in the shot clock, Furman’s weak-side defender in the corner once again failed to account for the rolling big man down the middle of the lane.
After making WSU grind for most of its points, Furman’s lapse here allowed Echenique to stroll down the middle of the lane untouched, receive the pass from Haynes-Jones and lay the ball in uncontested for a 68-66 lead with 1:39 remaining.
For Echenique, who scored 16 points with 10 rebounds, it was redemption after two lackluster games at the conference tournament in Memphis where he combined for 13 points and three rebounds in 26 minutes against Temple and Cincinnati.
“I asked him if it was anything wrong physically or mentally off the court, but he assured me it wasn’t,” Marshall said. “So I just appealed to his big heart. I said, ‘Listen, this team needs you. We need you to play well. We need you to block shots and rebound and defend.’”
“I reflected on it and I thought about all of the things that I needed to do better,” Echenique said. “I know I can do everything I need to do to help my team. I just had to show it.”
Although Furman star center Matt Rafferty scored a game-high 27 points with eight rebounds, five assists and five steals, the Shockers were able to negate some of that with improved play by Echenique and Asbjorn Midtgaard, who combined for 25 points and 20 rebounds and helped WSU out-rebound Furman by 17.
“If we get that every game from the big guys, then we’re definitely going to make some noise,” McDuffie said.
4. Haynes-Jones goes iso and hits the jumper
Whenever WSU has needed a basket late in the shot clock, it has always gone to Haynes-Jones.
After getting a defensive stand and milking the shot clock down to single-digits with a two-point lead Wednesday, Haynes-Jones took a ball screen from Midtgaard, darted left and got to his spot at the free throw line for a 15-foot pull-up jumper.
Haynes-Jones was in traffic when he lifted off, but he rose above the contest and swished the jumper to give WSU a two-possession lead, 70-66, with 44 seconds left.
“We were fighting out there down the stretch,” Haynes-Jones said. “We didn’t give in and we made big play after big play.”
5. The two seniors connect for the win
Rafferty scored quickly for Furman to cut the deficit to two and WSU survived a nervy moment against Furman’s full-court press to call timeout with 23 seconds left protecting a 70-68 lead.
WSU in-bounded at halfcourt and passed backwards to Haynes-Jones. The shot clock was turned off, but Furman still had time to try to trap and get a quick steal. Sure enough, Furman sent two defenders at Haynes-Jones, who jumped to throw a 60-foot pass over the top of Furman’s press.
There was certainly some risk in throwing the pass and there was even risk when McDuffie decided to go up for a shot. WSU could have played more conservatively and made Furman foul for free throws. But the gambles by WSU’s seniors proved well worth it when Haynes-Jones’ pass reached McDuffie at the other end and he drop-stepped to the rim and finished over a Furman defender to restore WSU’s two-possession lead, 72-68, with 14 seconds left.
“With me and Samajae out there as the leaders, these young guys make us feel younger,” McDuffie said. “How much better they’ve gotten, how motivated they are, how much they want to win. That motivates us to keep playing our best and when it’s time to make a play, me or Samajae will do that or they can now too.”
Furman missed a desperation three and WSU made four straight free throws to close the game out scoring 14 points on its final seven possessions in the game’s final four minutes.
“That was a big-time college basketball game out there,” Furman coach Bob Richey said. “They just made a few more plays down the stretch than we did. The ball didn’t bounce our way and it was unfortunate that somebody had to lose that game.”