Who took the most important shots of last season for the Wichita State men’s basketball team and who did coach Gregg Marshall have on the floor when the game was being decided?
Those are the questions The Eagle aimed to answer by compiling a “crunch time” database for WSU from the 2018-19 season, which tracked minutes played and box-score statistics on possessions in the final five minutes of games separated by five points or fewer.
The Shockers played 131 crunch time possessions spanning more than 70 minutes last season, the most logged by a WSU team since Marshall’s first season in Wichita.
Here’s what information can be gleaned from the data.
Who took the most important shots for the Shockers?
Game-winners came back into style for WSU last season after a four-year drought, as Samajae Haynes-Jones (SMU, Connecticut) hit a pair of runners and Dexter Dennis (at Tulane) drilled a three-pointer for the Shockers’ first buzzer-beaters since a Rashard Kelly tip-in to beat Hawaii on Dec. 23, 2014.
While those three shots served as three of the most memorable makes of the season for the Shockers, they are just a small sample size of the 111 field goals attempted by WSU in crunch time.
The chart above shows exactly how those 111 shots were distributed on the team and it’s no surprise to see that an extremely inexperienced team relied heavily on its two seniors, Haynes-Jones and Markis McDuffie, to generate offense when games were on the line.
For the season, Haynes-Jones and McDuffie accounted for 43% of WSU’s scoring and shot attempts. But for the crunch time numbers, the duo’s load increased to 49% of WSU’s scoring and 59% of the team’s shot attempts.
For perspective, that kind of burden to carry WSU’s crunch time offense has only been approached by two pairs before: Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet during their senior years in the 2015-16 season and Cleanthony Early and VanVleet during the 35-1 season in 2013-14.
What’s even more impressive is that despite the volume, Haynes-Jones and McDuffie actually elevated their performance during the most important moments of the game for WSU.
Haynes-Jones (15 of 36 shooting, 41 points) made and attempted the most crunch time shots for the Shockers, while McDuffie (14 of 31 shooting, 44 points) scored the most clutch points for the Shockers.
Haynes-Jones shot 36% from the field for the season, but made 44% of his crunch time shots. McDuffie finished the season shooting 41% from the field and 34% on three-pointers, but saw his shooting percentages rise to 45% from the field and 39% on three-pointers during crunch time.
When the stakes were raised even higher — on game-tying or go-ahead shots in the final five minutes — the pair was even better. McDuffie made 8 of 13 shots, while Haynes-Jones made 4 of 8 attempts.
There’s no doubt the Shockers will miss their top-two leading scorers in McDuffie (18.2) and Haynes-Jones (11.9), but it will be their volume and efficiency taking and making the game’s biggest shots that the Shockers will have to worry about replacing the most this upcoming season.
There are encouraging options for WSU, however.
When the Shockers were able to find Jaime Echenique, a 6-foot-11 center, in the post, he was nearly automatic for points when he touched the ball for WSU in crunch time. Echenique made 7 of 9 field goals and 12 of 19 free throws to score 26 points on 17 possessions for the highest efficiency (1.53 PPP) on the team. He also made all six of his game-tying or go-ahead shots this past season.
With the three-point line moving outward and WSU’s outside shooting expected to improve, Echenique should have even more room to operate in the post this upcoming season.
Sophomores Dexter Dennis and Erik Stevenson figure to replace a good portion of the departed senior’s work load down the stretch of close games. Dennis (14 shots) and Stevenson (13 shots) took the most crunch time shots outside of the two seniors, as Dennis connected on four threes and Stevenson made 10 of 12 foul line.
Also of note, Dennis registered the most offensive rebounds (6), Stevenson logged the most defensive rebounds (8) and fellow sophomore Jamarius Burton had the most assists (7) for the Shockers in crunch time.
Who was on the floor for WSU when it mattered?
Coaches often like to tell their players that it’s not who starts games, but it’s who finishes them.
The chart below shows who Marshall had on the court during WSU’s most important possessions of the season and how that playing time in crunch time compared to each player’s court time overall.
The most important takeaway for WSU from the data is that a trio of freshmen — Burton (55% of crunch time minutes played), Dennis (62%) and Stevenson (63%) — played significant crunch time minutes in their rookie seasons.
For perspective, the 43 crunch time minutes Burton, Dennis and Stevenson played last season were more than VanVleet or Baker ever played in a single season for the Shockers during their careers.
It’s impossible for coaches to replicate crunch time minutes in practice, so Marshall has to consider it a major victory in the learning curve for Burton, Dennis and Stevenson to be able to have already registered that many reps at a high level during the biggest moments of close games.
Like the majority of teams, WSU trimmed its rotation during crunch time with Marshall heavily relying on six players. McDuffie (98% of crunch time minutes played) and Haynes-Jones (97%) rarely came off the floor, while Stevenson (63%), Dennis (62%), Echenique (57%) and Burton (55%) all playing more than half of the minutes.
With three highly-touted freshmen battling for immediate playing time, it’s not hard to imagine where the minutes at the guard spot left by Haynes-Jones’ graduation go. But the more interesting question to ponder is how Marshall will fill the void left by McDuffie at the power forward position.
The Shockers brought in junior-college transfer Trey Wade to plug in at power forward, but it’s extremely unlikely he’ll be on the court during crunch time as much as McDuffie was last season.
Marshall will have to figure out how to distribute those minutes more evenly this season. Wade is sure to play minutes there. Will freshman DeAntoni Gordon make a push for immediate playing time? Will WSU go with two bigs and play more of Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler at power forward? Or will Marshall go the other way and downsize the lineup without sacrificing on defense by playing Dennis more minutes at the four?
How did Wichita State fare in close games?
Long gone are the days of Missouri Valley dominance for the Shockers. With the move up to the American, close finishes are the new norm for WSU.
WSU has played at least one crunch time possession in 37 of its 70 games (53% rate) the past two seasons, which coincides with WSU’s move to the AAC. That’s a stark contrast compared to the 34 games with a crunch time possession WSU played in 142 games (24% rate) its final four seasons in the Missouri Valley.
The Shockers finished with an 11-9 record in crunch time games last season with notable wins over Baylor, Clemson, Indiana, Providence and Furman. They were 8-3 in games when they led at the 5-minute mark and 3-6 in games when they trailed at the 5-minute mark.
WSU erased one-possession deficits for comebacks against Appalachian State, Jacksonville State and Tulane, while it allowed leads to slip away against Davidson (up 50-47 with 3:13 left in 57-53 loss), Temple (up 74-63 with 3:32 left in 85-81 overtime loss) and Lipscomb (up 64-57 with 3:46 left in 71-64 loss).
Both WSU and its opponent operated at a high level during crunch time moments last season. The Shockers scored at 1.23 points per possession on 132 offensive possessions, while WSU allowed opponents to score at 1.25 points per possession on 130 defensive possessions.