Forget about the technical stuff for a minute. Don’t focus on how good Wichita State forward Shaq Morris was on the defensive end in Friday’s 66-58, come-from-behind win over Loyola in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament quarterfinals. Because he was great, no doubt, but with Morris it’s becoming about more than just one thing he does well.
“The kid is always about winning, not just about scoring,” WSU assistant coach Isaac Brown said. “He just does the simple things to help us wins games ... he’ll block shots, he’ll set screens, he’ll go get tough rebounds. Tonight it was his shot-blocking ability that really helped us win the game.”
Morris’ turned in a bravura performance against Loyola, blocking a career-high six shots in 16 minutes — including three in the first half, when he played six minutes. That Morris, a 6-foot-8, 260-pound sophomore from Edmond, Okla., managed to do so without taking a shot — he scored two points on free throws — speaks volumes to how far he’s come this season.
“I just love the passion and the energy that he plays with,” WSU forward Rashard Kelly said. “He’s always on the help side, always helping out the guards. To see (Loyola guard Devon Turk) just run into Shaq as the wall builder, it was huge for the defense because it wasn’t a foul. He stayed in foul trouble at the beginning of the year, but he’s worked on that.
“Six blocks is huge. There’s centers in the big conferences that never come close to that ... he’s turning into a big-time player, that’s a great achievement for him.”
Morris was at his best on Friday in the game’s key stretch, as the Shockers rallied from a 48-41 deficit with 9:05 left. He blocked a layup attempt by Milton Doyle with 3:09 left and WSU trailing 55-53, then blocked Turk’s shot with WSU within one at 55-54 less than a minute later.
“Just my positioning, me trusting my teammates to help me out and whoever gets beat, I was telling my guards to just send them to me and I’ll take care of them,” said Morris, who averages 6.9 points and 3.4 rebounds. “Around this time of year, everybody wants to win and everybody wants to come at us hard. The desire to win, for us, is always there. I feel like we took care of business today.”
And all on a day when the Shockers had to go deep into their bench because of foul trouble — little-used sophomore forward Rauno Nurger even played five minutes — and senior forward Anton Grady struggled with six turnovers and was called for a flagrant foul.
“We needed that force in the paint tonight, that presence on our interior defense,” Brown said. “Guys were driving at the rim and he was right there, every time, blocking shots. When he can do stuff like that, it makes our defense a lot better.”