There’s nothing like the Roundhouse rocking in July.
Wichita State fans came out to Koch Arena in droves, shattering The Basketball Tournament attendance record by nearly triple, then the Aftershocks gave the crowd of 7,184 fans a fourth-quarter comeback to cheer about in an 85-76 victory over Iowa United on Thursday.
“It’s just a lot of emotions,” Aftershocks coach Karon Bradley said. “There’s obviously been a lot of buzz and a lot of hype, so to finally get the first game out of the window, we’re excited. Now we’re onto the next one. We’re taking it one game at a time.”
Wichita native Conner Frankamp led the WSU alumni team with 23 points on 9 of 14 shooting, including five three-pointers, and Cleanthony Early delivered a double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds. The Aftershocks advanced to Saturday’s 3 p.m. semifinal against Sideline Cancer, which defeated the KU alumni team, Self Made, 87-63.
After trailing by as many as nine points in the third quarter, the Aftershocks dominated the final frame. They scored the first 13 points of the fourth quarter to take a 69-60 lead in the first three minutes and outscored Iowa United 29-16 in the quarter behind a wave of momentum generated from the crowd.
“It just shows you how important our fan base is,” Kelly said. “They stayed with us the whole game. We came out hot, but basketball is a game of runs and when (Iowa United) made their run our fans stuck with us. Once we took the lead, it was over from there.”
Frankamp started the rally with a three-pointer in transition, then Garrett Stutz followed with an And-1 basket. Frankamp delivered another three, then Zach Brown capped the 13-0 run with a basket off a Shannon Shorter steal.
Iowa United made things interesting when it cut the Aftershocks’ lead to 71-67 only 23 seconds away from the 4-minute mark and a potential Elam Ending start. But Rashard Kelly canned a corner three and Frankamp followed with a three-pointer in transition to push the lead to 77-67.
“Conner knows he’s my favorite (Shocker) player,” Early said. “To see him have a game like that in front of his hometown and his family was awesome.”
Usually stoic, Frankamp let loose with his emotions and celebrated the three to the delight of the crowd.
“I was excited,” Frankamp said. “It’s just been a really fun process preparing for this with the guys and to get out there and get this first win was just very exciting.”
With the Elam Ending setting the target score at 85, the Aftershocks cruised to the victory with Clevin Hannah sinking a pair of free throws to end the game.
“I love the Elam Ending because it makes you keep playing the game the right way and keep trying to make plays,” Hannah said. “Hearing those roars was unbelievable, man. That was the best feeling I’ve had in my life to hear that many Shocker fans still yelling my name.”
While Iowa United staked their claim to the lead behind 13 three-pointers, the Aftershocks limited them to 41.4 percent (29 of 70) shooting and blocked nine shots. Kelly finished with nine points and six rebounds, while Shorter contributed nine points and six assists and Shaquille Morris chipped in eight points.
Aftershocks coach Karon Bradley would have been hard-pressed to script a better start to Wichita State’s first taste of TBT action.
Kelly opened the game with a lay-up, then blocked Iowa United’s first shot at the other end to start a fast break that ended with Early jumping and throwing a cross-court bounce pass through traffic to a streaking Frankamp for another lay-in.
If Koch Arena wasn’t at its loudest, it might have been when Morris blocked Iowa United’s next shot and Shorter pulled up for a three-point swish and 7-0 lead.
Iowa United called a timeout 73 seconds into the game in an attempt to silence the deafening noise of WSU fans basking in the glory of watching their former favorites do what they do best at Koch Arena.
Five years since graduating WSU, Early somehow became even more of a showman on the court.
After almost every score (Early led the Aftershocks with 11 first-half points), Early played to the crowd, flexed his muscles and raised the roof. He was at his best late in the second quarter when Iowa United’s Matt Tiby attacked the rim looking for a dunk, only to be rejected by Early in a demonstrative manner that delighted the crowd.
The Aftershocks took their largest lead of the game when J.T. Durley found Early on the baseline for a reverse dunk and 14-5 lead with 4:30 remaining.
“I was definitely enjoying myself out there,” Early said.
But that initial adrenaline rush of playing in front of the home fans again wore out, and Iowa United rallied and tie the game 21-21 at the end of the first quarter.
The outside shot propelled Iowa United to a 30-23 lead early in the second quarter. But Frankamp drilled a jumper and cut the deficit to 30-27, as the crowd poised for another eruption, only for Iowa United to drill back-to-back three-pointers to restore the lead. Iowa United finished the first half shooting 44.4 percent from distance, making 8 of 18 three-pointers.
“Basketball is a game of ups and downs and we talked about that through the course of the game,” Bradley said. “Things are going to happen. Emotions are high. We’re out there competing. You just have to stay composed and the guys did that.”
From being up nine to down nine, the Aftershocks used a late rally behind a pair of jumpers from Frankamp to erase their deficit and tie the game 38-38 at halftime and set up their fourth-quarter rally.
Minor injuries prevented Toure’ Murry and Tekele Cotton from playing in Thursday’s game and make them questionable for this weekend’s games. An injury also prevented Malcolm Armstead from making it to Wichita for the event.
“This is professional basketball at the end of the day,” Bradley said. “We know all of these guys we’re playing against are professionals, so you can’t overlook anyone. This TBT thing is the real deal and we’re playing high-level basketball here. So we’ve got to be locked in the entire game.”