Wichita State coach, players talk about NIT loss to Lipscomb
The end had come, however surreal the moment felt to Markis McDuffie.
He had just played his final game in a Wichita State uniform. It did not go the way he wanted, as the Shockers lost 71-64 to Lipscomb on Tuesday night in the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament and the senior had finished 4 of 15 from the field for 12 points.
McDuffie has experienced the sadness of those end-of-season games. But there had always been next year. Another summer to work. One more season to dream about.
Sitting in a chair in the middle of a somber locker room inside Madison Square Garden, the arena he grew up dreaming to play at as a kid from Paterson, N.J., McDuffie still couldn’t come to grips with the finality of the moment. This time, there is no next year with the Shockers.
“I can’t believe it’s over,” McDuffie said. “I feel like I have another year, you know? It hasn’t really hit me yet.”
Not even 30 minutes before, Wichita State’s other senior, Samajae Haynes-Jones, was igniting the Shocker contingent in New York City with a steal and his first dunk of the season, which put WSU up 61-50 with eight minutes remaining.
No one on WSU could explain what happened after that.
Instead, the stats tell the story: WSU missed its final 10 shots, committed five turnovers and scored three points in its final 16 possessions. So what changed? Why weren’t the Shockers able to make a basket for the final eight minutes?
“I don’t have an explanation,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “I’ll have to watch the film.”
Given chance after chance to make a run at the lead, Lipscomb eventually capitalized and made big shot after big shot. The Bisons ended the game on a 21-3 run in the final seven minutes.
A loss to end the season was always going to be difficult. A loss like this, knowing they had the game in control and the win in their grasp, hurts even more for the players.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow, considering we were up by that much,” WSU freshman Jamarius Burton said. “We just couldn’t cash in toward the end. It’s definitely hard to sit with that loss.”
WSU’s seniors were given the opportunity to decide the game, as McDuffie and Haynes-Jones attempted eight of the Shockers’ final 10 shots.
Most were shots that the two have hit throughout the season. McDuffie missed a wide-open three in transition with 7:03 left that could have pushed the lead to 14. Haynes-Jones followed with a wide-open miss on a three that could have done the same. Both had clean looks.
It was a frustrating ending, as the two seniors combined for 9-for-31 shooting. But their teammates pointed out that the Shockers would not have even reached this game without the seniors’ timely shot-making in March.
“We just didn’t make shots at the right time tonight,” McDuffie said. “It’s a tough feeling to know we let that one slip away, but I’m so proud of this basketball team and how much we accomplished. We got back to the winning side and continued to fight and kept getting better. It’s unfortunate we didn’t win it all, but I’m at a loss for words. I can’t explain how proud I am of these guys.”
The two seniors were stoic in the locker room. They remained strong, just like they had over the course of the season when WSU faced its most adversity in the last decade.
It was more emotional for the underclassmen. Yes, they have next season, but it will be without the only two leaders they’ve known. In those moments following a season-ending loss, their minds were on how McDuffie and Haynes-Jones had led them out of a season-opening loss to Louisiana Tech, out of an 8-11 start to the season, out of a 1-6 start to American Athletic Conference play.
Freshman Erik Stevenson couldn’t fight back tears when asked what that duo had meant to them.
“It’s hard to talk about it without getting emotional because I love them so much,” Stevenson said. “What they did for us was unexplainable. Ten newcomers. We didn’t know how to win a game of basketball, even a half of college basketball. They led the way.
“I love them to death. I got their back whenever.”
Junior Jaime Echenique went to both seniors with heart-felt messages that ended in bear hugs. He showed up in Wichita by way of Colombia and moved into a house with McDuffie and Haynes-Jones. They were more than just teammates. They were friends who helped Echenique adjust to life in Wichita.
“They are both a hell of a player and a hell of a leader,” Echenique said. “They are my big brothers. They’ve helped me so much in this process. They helped me through the downs and the ups. I’m going to miss these guys because they mean so much to me.”
Burton couldn’t help but smile when recalling the memory when he took his official visit to Wichita State this past spring. McDuffie was his guide on campus. After the visit, Burton knew he wanted to play with a winner like McDuffie.
“I can’t thank him enough,” Burton said. “I think back to how much he’s helped me throughout my freshman year, I can’t thank him and Samajae enough. They helped us so much.”
For Haynes-Jones, it was so close to a storybook ending for the Wichita native. He had won a championship in high school with East, then helped Hutchinson Community College to a championship two years ago. It seemed like fate that he would end his career with another title.
To come this close could be agonizing for some, but Haynes-Jones chose to keep his head held high.
“There’s not a lot of negative things I’m thinking about right now,” Haynes-Jones said. “I’m thinking about all of the adversity and how we prevailed in a lot of different ways. Even though we lost this game, we went from 1-6 to winning 22 games and playing in April. That’s just a blessing. I’m just very thankful right now.”
There weren’t many tears after the loss that concluded a 22-15 season because it was understood in the locker room what the team had accomplished by winning 14 of its last 18 games.
Heading into February, no one thought this team was capable of finishing with a winning record in conference play, of being one shot away from playing for an AAC Tournament championship, of going into Assembly Hall in front of 10,000-plus and beating Indiana to reach Madison Square Garden.
The Shockers had proved what they needed to prove to one another and along the way proved many others wrong. On the backs of the two seniors.
“This was a year we could have taken a big dip,” Marshall said. “I mean a big dip. All I can do is be thankful that I’ve got these guys as soldiers and I just want to see them be successful. I think what they accomplished this year, just simply by learning how to lead and being positive with a young group that looked like they didn’t know which end was what. They continued to show to show them that this is how Shockers play. This is how we are going to be successful. And listen, they got a lot out of that group that’s in that locker room.”
This was a journey that was unexpected. Neither McDuffie or Haynes-Jones had any idea that this final chapter would feature so many highs and lows.
They entered not sure how their new roles as leaders would go, but they can now look back with pride on how they handled themselves in a new role.
“I can say this is one of my hardest years, but then you think about how much it helped you in so many ways,” Haynes-Jones said. “I can look back on this year when I’m trying to be successful in life knowing that I’ve been through adversity like this. There’s so much of life ahead of me. I’m just thankful for all of this.”
“This has been nothing but amazing,” McDuffie said. “These guys are like family forever. When they need me, I’m going to answer. I appreciate the brotherhood of the last four years, especially this year growing as a person and as a basketball player. I learned what I was capable of as a leader and it definitely changed my life.”