Wichita State Shockers

Shocker Classics: How WSU beat Illinois State down 7 with 41 seconds left in 2013

The will of Malcolm Armstead, the strength of Carl Hall, the timely shot-making of Cleanthony Early and one kick of Jackie Carmichael produced one of the most thrilling chapters in the Wichita State-Illinois State rivalry with the Shockers’ improbable 68-67 victory at Redbird Arena on February 17, 2013.

WSU trailed by seven points with 41 seconds left, at which point chances for a comeback were given exactly a 1.2% chance by Ken Pomeroy’s calculations.

But on that fateful night, WSU operated in that 1.2% and The Eagle has examined the game tape to explain how the Shockers pulled off the near-impossible in Normal, Illinois some six years ago.

After winning his first MVC championship in 2012, WSU coach Gregg Marshall was more motivated than ever to prove the Shockers were more than a one-hit wonder. After five seniors graduated, including Toure’ Murry and Garrett Stutz, Marshall reloaded the Shockers with Early, Armstead and Hall.

Entering a Sunday night road test at Illinois State, the Shockers were once again in prime position to win the Valley. WSU was 10-4 in conference, a half-game up on Creighton with four games (including the ISU game) remaining and in control to repeat as conference champions for the first time in program history since 1965.

Meanwhile, Illinois State entered the game as arguably the hottest team in the Valley. After an 0-6 start, the Redbirds had reeled off wins in seven of their last eight games, including a road win at Creighton. In anticipation of an amped-up crowd on a Sunday night, Illinois State wore its road red uniforms and had its crowd do a red-out for a national audience on ESPNU.

The first 13 minutes of the game were a disaster for the Shockers, which could only muster five points in the first 22 possessions. WSU missed 14 of 16 shots, three of four free throws and turned the ball over eight times.

At one point, the Shockers came up empty on offense an astounding 13 straight possessions.

It was a minor miracle the deficit to Illinois State only swelled to 19-5 (after the Redbirds methodically rattled off a 15-0 run that took them 17 possessions and nearly six minutes) with 7:20 remaining in the first half.

WSU’s offense finally kicked into gear and steadied itself over the course of the final seven minutes, as a Demetric Williams’ three-pointer trimmed Illinois State’s halftime advantage to 27-20.

WSU crawled to as close as four points early in the second half, but the Redbirds used a 6-0 run to establish a 38-27 lead with 13:30 remaining and forced Marshall to call a timeout to stop the run.

With a 45-36 lead and 9:29 remaining, Illinois State scored two points on nine straight possessions. For a team with a nine-point lead, 18 straight points is usually good enough to deliver the knockout punch.

But the Shockers wouldn’t go away, thanks to clutch basket after clutch basket by Armstead, the Oregon transfer who entered averaging 9.8 points and scored a game-high 18 points. Even with ISU scoring every time down the floor, the Redbirds were only able to extend their lead by one, 61-51, over this crucial five-minute stretch.

Not only did WSU trail by 10 on the road in a hostile environment (KenPom pegged WSU’s comeback chances at 3.7% here), but the Shockers couldn’t keep Illinois State off the foul line — the Redbirds were 24 of 27 on free throws — and couldn’t get their leading scorer going — Early was 0 for 3 from the field, hadn’t attempted a field goal the entire scond half and had just picked up his fourth foul.

Despite these factors working against WSU, Hall proved to be the spark plug for the Shockers. And he did it by simply out-working his counterpart Jackie Carmichael, an all-conference player, in the post three straight times down the floor.

The second clip is probably Marshall’s favorite, as he loves when his bigs sprint the floor, seal their defender early, making for the easy entry pass and score like Hall executed here. The third clip also shows Hall’s masterful feel in the post, as you can see him perfectly time his nudge on Carmichael to create separation for the catch when VanVleet dribble penetrates and jumps to create the passing angle over the top.

Hall scores six points during that span, then comes up big on the defensive end as the head of WSU’s full-court press. Hall traps ISU’s Tyler Brown in the corner, deflects his pass out and then all in one motion, catches it and throws it off Brown, standing out of bounds, to give WSU the ball back, down 63-57 with 2:26 left.

Marshall dials up the perfect play, as Early sets the back screen for Tekele Cotton at the free-throw line, which forces Early’s defender to be weary of Cotton cutting to the right block for the layup. But Early’s screen is just window dressing for the real action.

With his defender distracted by the screen he set at the free-throw line, Early is free to curl around a screen set by Hall at the top of the key for a catch-and-shoot three in rhythm. His defender trails by a half-second, but that’s all the space Early needs to drill the three over 6-foot-9 John Wilkins. It’s an impressive make and even more so considering it was Early’s first field goal of the game and his first shot attempt since the 8:37 mark of the first half.

After the teams trade empty possessions, ISU makes two free throws to extend its lead to 65-60 with 1:07 remaining. What happened next is what gives this game its memorable nickname: the Jackie Chan Carmichael game.

ISU appeared on the cusp of securing the win when Armstead’s three rattles in and out, Carmichael grabs the rebound and ISU is fouled with 41 seconds left. But it’s not hard to see that when Carmichael secures the rebound, his legs extend in the air and his right foot connects with Cotton’s face.

Marshall was immediately dismayed when the officials didn’t make the call and you can see him on the sidelines making a kicking motion to the referees. When the play stops for the foul call, Marshall is immediately on head referee Paul Janssen to have him review Carmichael’s kick. And sure enough, Janssen retroactively assesses a flagrant foul after reviewing the play.

“Never in my entire life,” Dan Muller said after the game. “And I’d be surprised if I see another one. They said he intentionally kicked him above the neck. How Jackie was getting a rebound and intentionally kicking a moving target, I’m not sure.”

Where Janssen and his crew went wrong — they were later disciplined by the conference — was by mistakenly allowing Marshall to pick his free-throw shooter. Instead of sending Cotton, a 54% foul shooter, to the line, WSU was able to send Early, a 79% shooter.

“I just assumed it was a technical foul and sent our best percentage free throw shooter to the line,” Marshall said afterward. “If Tekele was the guy that got kicked, then call it when he got kicked and then he goes to the line and they don’t get their two free throws.”

So after each team made their free throws, WSU gets the ball back, down 67-62 with 41 seconds left. Muller tries to throw WSU for a loop by switching ISU to a zone, but the Shockers make quick work of it with crisp ball movement around the perimeter. The ball doesn’t stick once as Armstead passes to Early, who whips it to Cotton, who makes the assist to an open Williams in the corner.

Williams made just 28% of three-pointers that season, but the senior rose the occasion here to drill the three to cut ISU’s lead to 67-65 with 27 seconds left.

All great comebacks feature help from the other team and WSU gets its next break on th ensuing possession when Johnny Hill immediately loses control of his handle on the inbounds pass and dribbles the ball out of bounds against WSU’s full-court defense.

That blunder gives WSU its first possession with the chance to tie or take the lead in nearly 32 minutes and Marshall isn’t about to let it go to waste, which is why the coach calls for timeout to abort WSU’s final play when he sees how disorgnized WSU’s players already were off the first pass.

After the timeout, Marshall dials up a simple pick-and-pop with his two best play-makers — Armstead and Early. A simple, yet effective twist Marshall adds is having Early start at the low block so he can have Hall clip his defender with a screen that will free him up for a better screen up top on Armstead’s defender.

The minor move works to perfection, as Hall’s screen catches Early’s defender and makes him trail the play and be out of position when Early switches the angle of the screen at the last moment. It’s unclear which ISU defender is mistaken, but the duo wasn’t on the same page because Early’s defender goes lunging toward the perimeter to corral the ball handler and Armstead’s defender fights through the ball screen to try to keep up with Armstead.

Armstead diagnoses the defensive error and finds Early, who peelss off to relocate to the right wing. Even though ISU’s Bryant Allen (6 foot) recovers extremely well, his length fails to disrupt the shot of the 6-8 Early, who swishes the game-winning three with 5.2 seconds left.

A wild Carmichael runner five seconds later and Chris Jans was fist pumping, an injured Ron Baker was raising his hand in victory and Hall was talking that talk to Williams.

WSU kept its one-game lead over Creighton for the MVC title with the victory, but was unable to hold on for back-to-back Valley titles, dropping a senior night game to Evansville at home and the finale on the road to Creighton. ISU promised revenge after the game if the two met again in St. Louis, which they did, only for the Shockers to win 66-51 this time in the semifinals. But WSU again lost to Creighton in the championship game.

No one could have guessed what came next, as the ninth-seeded Shockers made a Cinderella run to the Final Four, taking down Gonzaga and Ohio State along the way. Their run finally came to an end in a 72-68 loss to Louisville in the national semifinals.

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