As all of us who follow college basketball know, a school like Wichita State has a better chance of getting Santa Claus to come to town than it does a big-time, BCS conference team.
So the first words out of Gregg Marshall's mouth after his Shockers won an exhilarating 85-83 game against Texas Tech at Koch Arena was to thank the Red Raiders for showing up and finishing a two-game, home-and-home series with WSU.
College basketball needs more coaches who think like Tech's Pat Knight. He knew he was bringing his team into an unforgiving place against an up-and-coming team but he agreed to the series because, lo and behold, he thinks it will make his team better.
Have you ever heard such a thing?
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Most of the big-time coaches from the big-time schools avoid teams like Wichita State as if they're infected with the H1N1 virus.
Knight was raised to be his own man.
"This was good for us, a really good game for us,'' said Knight, whose Red Raiders lost for the first time and dropped to 9-1. "You can win all of your preseason games but it doesn't mean anything if you don't do well in the conference. You'd maybe like to have an easier schedule, but you have to get ready for your conference.''
In Knight's mind, Texas Tech got better Saturday night, even in a loss.
The nerve of this guy. He's not going to be invited to the next big-time coaches barbecue.
The atmosphere at Koch was befitting of two teams that had one loss between them. The game had a halting start — the first 4:12 produced two points for each team.
The Shockers were the first team to get their feet on the ground and used a 22-7 run to take a 35-21 lead. Truthfully, Texas Tech did not look like the 16th best team in the country in that first half and that's putting it kindly.
But the Raiders came out scorching in the second half. They topped their first-half points total in just more than eight minutes and were just getting warmed up.
For a while, the Shockers could do nothing to contain Tech as they helplessly watched their lead drip, drip, drip away. And with 7:06 remaining, on a basket by David Tairu, it happened — the Red Raiders pulled ahead 55-54. They stretched it to a three-point lead on Theron Jenkins' bucket, then to four on a free throw by Mike Singletary with 5:23 to play.
Marshall scratched his head. His players had a bit of a deer-in-the-headlights look. The raucous, sellout crowd at Koch Arena, lit up like a Christmas tree from the opening tip, started shuffling its feet.
Then, in rode senior guard Clevin Hannah, whose back-to-back threes gave the Shockers back their grip.
Hannah was a cool customer, a senior who didn't allow himself to get caught up in the adversity, and the potential panic, of allowing such a big lead to disappear.
"First of all, as we saw the lead go away I knew we were going to stay confident because we're a confident team,'' Hannah said. "I hate to be down and I was able to step up and make some big-time plays.''
Hannah scored 15 of his 24 points in the final 6:16. Teammate Garrett Stutz added seven points in that span and it was just enough to hold off a Texas Tech team that shot 70 percent in the second half after shooting 25.8 percent in the first.
Marshall, elated with his biggest win as Wichita State's coach, still winced when he saw the number "62" etched into the second-half points column for Texas Tech.
"We didn't defend like we needed to in the second half,'' Marshall said. "But they get a lot of credit for that because they have very good basketball players.''
Texas Tech's tale of two halves was confusing, though. The Raiders looked like a lower-division Big 12 team in the first half; then like a team that might push into the thick of things in the second.
The Shockers, meanwhile, continue to find different ways to win.
You wouldn't have had any faith in a Wichita State win if you'd known Aaron Ellis and Gabe Blair would combine for two points and two rebounds.
You wouldn't have given the Shockers a chance if you'd known Toure Murry would make 4 of 13 shots, though he did have seven rebounds.
If Wichita State has proven anything during its impressive start, it's that there are more than two or three players willing and capable of stepping up when others aren't producing.
Saturday, Hannah, Stutz and junior J.T. Durley, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds in 34 minutes, were there when they were needed most.
The Shockers didn't play close to a flawless game Saturday, yet they beat a ranked team and look as if they'll go into Missouri Valley Conference play next week at Illinois State with an 11-1 record, provided they take care of North Dakota State on Monday night.
North Dakota State isn't Texas Tech, obviously. North Dakota State, which pushed Kansas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season, is not as dangerous this season.
North Dakota State is more typical of the type of team schools like Wichita State have to schedule at home these days since the big boys have decided it's too dangerous to play teams like the Shockers on the road.
Anybody who saw Saturday night's game wishes there were more like it. Unfortunately, it's only a pipe dream in today's world of college basketball, where the rich don't like to step outside of their castles. Commend Knight for a giving a little guy a chance and suffering the consequences without remorse.