There was no opening-day stunner at Koch Arena this season.
The Shockers led wire to wire in a 68-54 victory over Nebraska Omaha at Koch Arena on Tuesday, as junior-college transfer Trey Wade became the first Shocker in 20 years to register a double-double in his WSU debut with a game-high 19 points and 11 rebounds.
WSU junior Dexter Dennis poured in 17 points, including five three-pointers, to go along with nine rebounds, while freshman Grant Sherfield finished with 12 points and six assists to one turnover. Wade finished 6 of 13 from the field with four offensive rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal in 31 minutes, registering the first debut double-double since OJ Robinson in 1999.
“Trey Wade has been a savior for us in his three outings so far,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said, referring to WSU’s scrimmage and exhibition games where Wade also posted double-double efforts.
It wasn’t a pretty offensive outing from WSU, which finished shooting 36.6% from the field, 35.5% on 31 three-pointers and just 41.7% from the foul line on 12 attempts. But the Shockers blocked seven shots, collected 15 offensive rebounds and held Omaha to 0.79 points per possession on defense.
Omaha was led by 16 points by Ayo Akinwole, while St. James graduate Zach Thornhill finished with 11 points. Junior Matt Pile, a Wichita native and former all-state player at Eisenhower, finished with six points and a game-high 15 rebounds.
“We had some pretty good execution, but instead of looking for the guy that was open, we’re looking for the other option,” Marshall said. “It was just a little bit off. Discombobulated just a little bit. We’ll see that on video and hopefully we’ll continue to get better. The good news is we played with two juniors and the rest sophomores and freshmen.”
WSU also had to adjust to an injury to sophomore guard Jamarius Burton, who again came off the bench. But Burton’s season debut lasted only five minutes, as he landed awkwardly on his right ankle and exited the game under his own power with 12:34 remaining. Marshall said afterward that Burton was on crutches and although he didn’t know a time frame, “it didn’t look good.”
That not only eliminated WSU’s most experienced ball handler, but it also left Marshall just nine scholarship players the final 32 minutes. WSU was without Jamie Echenique (left hand), freshman guard Noah Fernandes (left foot) and freshman forward Josaphat Bilau, who did not dress and appears headed toward a redshirt season.
That led to some rough stretches on offense, where the Shockers had to find their way with mostly first-year players on the court. It was reminiscent of one year ago when WSU opened with a rough first outing against Louisiana Tech.
The difference, of course is that the Shockers were able to win this time thanks to a tremendous defensive effort spearheaded by Dennis.
Dennis also provided the first meaningful separation of the game with two straight threes out of halftime to spur an 8-2 run and extend WSU’s lead to 39-27 with 16:56 remaining.
“It wasn’t really about making the shots, it was about just playing better,” Dennis said of the emotion he showed after hitting the second three. “It was a close game and we just wanted to play better. We wanted to space the game out a little bit. We weren’t playing good in the first half and those two shots kind of got us going and got us turned up a little bit.”
WSU’s improved offensive play was also a result of Sherfield finding his confidence with an early jumper. After missing three of four shots in the first half, Sherfield made his first four shots — all jumpers — in the first seven minutes of the second half.
The Wichita native drew gasps from the crowd when his crossover floored an Omaha defender, then he swished a stepback jumper. Soon after, sophomore Morris Udeze finished a three-point play to extend WSU’s lead to 48-32.
“It always feels good when you get somebody off-balanced and you’re able to hit the shot,” Sherfield said. “That was just what the defense was giving me. The big was kind of shadowing and didn’t really give me a hedge (on ball screens), so I just probed and probed and just hit the shots.”
When Omaha rallied to trim the deficit to 10 points, WSU delivered the finishing blow with a Dennis three-pointer, a Sherfield dunk off an Etienne steal, a Stevenson layup on a feed from Dennis, a Wade layup and then a Stevenson jumper to cap a 14-4 run to take a 67-47 lead with 3:54 remaining.
The first half certainly presented a new look for WSU on offense. With their top center, Jaime Echenique, and biggest force inside sidelined, the Shockers attempted 21 three-pointers in the first half — there were 11 full games last season WSU didn’t shoot more than that.
The results were mixed.
Dennis made two straight threes to open the game and Tyson Etienne and Wade drilled back-to-back threes midway through the first half to claim WSU’s largest lead of the half, 24-14.
But there was also a stretch where the Shockers missed seven straight three-pointers, some of them rushed, contested looks that made WSU coach Gregg Marshall throw his hands up in frustration.
“Too many and we talked about that (at halftime),” Marshall said of the long-range shots. “I’ve been talking to them about that all fall. But they make them.
“But playing in a game like this against a team we didn’t really have a scouting report on, the game was tougher than some of these guys realized. Still, we were up 20 late and we’re 1-0 and it wasn’t a disaster.”
The highlight of the game came midway through the first half when Sherfield found Dennis cutting on a fast break and the 6-foot-5 sophomore skied through the air and viciously threw down a slam dunk to electrify the Koch Arena crowd.