The idea of former Wichita State basketball players hosting a reunion on the court at Koch Arena and playing for a championship in July was such a tantalizing thought.
So much so that Wichita basketball fans packed Koch Arena this week to shatter The Basketball Tournament attendance records three straight days in a row.
But a championship ending won’t happen for the Aftershocks in their inaugural summer.
Behind a flurry of three-pointers and offensive rebounds, Sideline Cancer, a team with six years of TBT experience, pushed past the Aftershocks 87-79 Saturday afternoon. They will face Marquette’s alumni team, Golden Eagles, in the Wichita regional championship at 3 p.m. Sunday.
“I felt like I went back in time this weekend,” Aftershocks coach Karon Bradley, and former WSU player, said. “I know the guys more than me since they were out there playing. I’ve been around so many different arenas around the country and around the world and there are no fans like Shocker fans. We showed that this weekend.
“We didn’t even know about the TBT as a community a year ago and the city still showed out like they did in the first year.”
Sideline Cancer, with players from colleges such as Southern Louisiana, Santa Clara and Central Michigan, connected on 14 three-pointers and out-rebounded the Aftershocks by 16 that led to a 21-8 advantage in second-chance points.
Cleanthony Early led all scorers with 25 points on just 10 shots, while Shannon Shorter added 17 points and four assists and Wichita native Conner Frankamp scored 16 points.
“They had some really good players, some explosive players,” said Aftershocks guard Clevin Hannah. “They were more experienced than us in the TBT, so I’m sure that played a big part in it. Whenever we made a run, they came up with a shot.”
Chances for a comeback seemed bleak when Remy Abell (20 points) drained a pull-up three to give Sideline Cancer a 79-70 lead with just 44 seconds until the possible start of the Elam Ending.
But the Aftershocks rallied to inspire hope, as Early made a pair of free throws, then Shorter (the lone non-Shocker alumni on the team) forced Sideline Cancer’s Marcus Keane into an over-and-back violation. Early capitalized on the opportunity with a three-point play to trim the deficit to 79-75 before Sideline Cancer called timeout to set the Elam Ending target score at 87.
The Aftershocks had the chance for a stop when Maurice Creek (24 points) missed a three-pointer, but the Aftershocks could not corral the rebound. Given a second chance, Creek made the Aftershocks pay with a jumper.
After Frankamp stole an outlet pass for an easy basket, Sideline Cancer again had the answer with a Keane dagger from distance for an 85-77 lead that closed them to within two points of the target score on just two possessions. Sideline Cancer closed the game out with three possessions, as Devonte Upson made a pair of free throws.
“We didn’t give up, but being on the court I can tell you that it felt like they couldn’t miss,” Aftershocks center Shaquille Morris said.
“They (Sideline Cancer) hit some really tough shots down the stretch, contested shots,” Early said. “They played really well though and they’ve got the cause they’re playing for. I hope they continue to put in work.”
It was a deflating ending, especially after the Aftershocks had rallied from 12 down in the third quarter. After falling behind 68-56 late in the third quarter, the Aftershocks ended the quarter on a 9-1 run capped by a Shorter buzzer-beating three-pointer in the corner.
Frankamp, a Wichita native, had a strange game by his reputation. Usually known as a sharpshooter from distance, Frankamp instead showed off his dribbling skills and dazzled his hometown crowd multiple times with forays in the lane that finished with a basket.
Frankamp finished with 16 points but did not make a single three-pointer. All seven of his baskets were in the lane.
“It definitely seemed like they weren’t giving me any open looks, so I had to get to the lane and made quite a few layups,” Frankamp said. “That’s not really what I’m used to, but I just took what they gave me.”
But the Aftershocks couldn’t overcome their deficit on the three-point line, as they made just 4 of 20 three-pointers. Sideline Cancer made 14 of 31 threes.
After the game, the Aftershocks lingered on the court to show their appreciation for Wichita State fans.
“A lot of us never thought we would play in front of Shocker Nation again, maybe even in the country,” said Garrett Stutz, who plays professionally in Japan. “To have the opportunity to put on a show for the fans and interact with them one more time and give the city of Wichita some basketball in the summer has been something special.”
“This was so emotional for me because I never thought I would play here again,” Hannah said. “To be able to play with guys from different eras, it was an amazing feeling. Even though we lost, I still had fun. I’m looking forward to coming back next year and doing it even better next year.”
That seemed to be the prevailing message from the Aftershocks coaches and players.
“Playing with these guys, there’s nothing better than that,” Morris said. “We’ll be back.”