It was an understandably somber scene in the Wichita State locker room at the Scottrade Center following a 57-52 overtime loss to Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament semifinals on Saturday.
In one corner, Wichita State assistant director of media relations Bryan Holmgren approached senior point guard Fred VanVleet and asked him if he was ready to talk to the media.
“We talk when we win,” VanVleet replied. “So we can do it now.”
To VanVleet’s left, seniors Ron Baker and Evan Wessel huddled in a group of folding chairs with junior walk-on J.R. Simon, talking in hushed voices. Freshman guard Ty Taylor and sophomore forward Shaq Morris sat next to them on a small bench in stunned silence.
“Just disappointed, obviously ... we never take losses well,” said VanVleet, the two-time MVC Player of the Year. “Especially when you don’t play well, speaking for myself, because I played bad both days and in both games.”
VanVleet battled foul trouble in a quarterfinal win over Loyola on Friday and only scored eight points and had a pair of crucial turnovers at the end of Saturday’s loss.
On the other side of a small partition, senior forward Anton Grady got dressed quickly, pulling on a gray Nike pullover and sweats before starting interviews. He addressed the elephant in the room after the Shockers placed themselves firmly on the bubble come NCAA Tournament Selection Sunday on March 13.
“For whatever reason, we didn’t have the consistency we needed,” Grady said. “That was lacking, and it’s tough to deal with, but we put ourselves in this situation. Now we wait.”
Next to Grady, freshman forward Eric Hamilton and senior forward Bush Wamukota stared at the floor. Rauno Nurger picked at a box of Chick-Fil-A as junior walk-on Zach Bush thumbed through his phone and freshman forward Markis McDuffie sat on a folding chair in front of them, doing interviews.
“We couldn’t hit threes, couldn’t stop (UNI point guard Wes) Washpun,” McDuffie said. “Washpun was kind of unstoppable tonight ... it was tough to just keep him in front of you.”
WSU made 2 of 24 three-point shots, while Washpun scored 20 points, including the final basket for UNI.
In the far corner of the locker room, sophomores Conner Frankamp, Zach Brown and Rashard Kelly sat in a boxed-in set of lockers, jerseys still on. Brown shook his head in disgust and leaned back in the locker — he went 0 for 6.
“Right after, it was kind of emotional,” Frankamp said. “For the seniors, it’s their last MVC Tournament here so it definitely wasn’t a good feeling. It will be pretty tough, but we have to get back and continue to work hard. We feel like we’ll definitely be playing somewhere, we just hope it’s the NCAA Tournament. We want to be in the Big Dance.”
The Shockers very well could be dancing eight days from now. Until then, all they can do is wait — and wonder about a big missed opportunity.