ST. LOUIS — What happened for 12 minutes and 10 seconds Sunday inside the Scottrade Center?
Why did a Wichita State basketball team that was taking it to big, bad Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship game drop dead in its tracks? Anybody?
Is it just that the Shockers stopped making shots? Is the answer that easy, as some of the players suggested? Or is there something more revealing to be unearthed?
WSU took a 39-33 lead on Garrett Stutz's three-pointer with 16:24 to play in the second half. The Shockers were bouncing around like they'd just knocked down Ali.
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Then... then, nothing.
It would be 12:10 before Wichita State scored another basket. In that time, UNI outscored the Shockers, 23-3. And that was it. Northern Iowa's 67-52 win gets the Panthers the Valley's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament while WSU sits and hopes enough chips fall for an NCAA spot of its own, though the NIT is the Shockers' likely destination.
Too bad, because Wichita State peaked at the right time. For two games-plus in this tournament, the Shockers played as well as they've played all season. The old reliables did what they do and youngsters Stutz and Demetric Williams provided some unexpected ammunition.
Then 12:10 happened. Why is anybody's guess?
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall was asked about 12:10 numerous times, but was as baffled as everyone else.
"It's obvious we hit a real dry spell there at some point in the second half,'' he said. "I'm trying to get some clarification on exactly how long, then we'll have to figure out why.''
Scoring baskets against Northern Iowa is like extracting water from a rock. There might be a drop or two in there, but getting to it is an excruciating process.
Maybe the Shockers just wore down. They used a lot of energy in tight games against Missouri State and Illinois State just to get to their first Valley championship game in 23 years.
Is fatigue the reason? The players weren't buying it.
"No,'' WSU junior J.T. Durley said when asked if that was a factor. "I mean, we just got outplayed in the second half.''
"We played hard all throughout the tournament and all throughout the game and we just came up a little bit short,'' he said.
I think there's something to the fatigue factor, though.
WSU guards Toure Murry and Clevin Hannah played 104 and 101 minutes in three games. Graham Hatch played 91 and Stutz's minutes increased dramatically here.
Northern Iowa, which doesn't get enough credit for its quality depth (its bench outscored WSU's 25-10 on Sunday), was able to rest players during its first two tournament wins over Drake and Bradley. No Panthers played more than 82 minutes in their three tournament games.
"We haven't played three games in three days (before the MVC),'' Marshall said. "So I don't know. They have the same situation. But it looked like we may have hit a little wall, I don't know.''
A little wall? The Shockers ran head-first into the backside of Northern Iowa's Lucas O' (what a)Rear.
WSU has been the one team to stand up to Northern Iowa's brutish ways. The Panthers don't get many style points. If there was a sport called mud basketball, UNI would be No 1.
The Panthers defend to the hilt and hit enough shots to keep a defense honest. But when it counted most, Northern Iowa played its best basketball of the day.
The Panthers' 23-3 run included four three-pointers and eight free throws, six from point guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe, the tournament's MVP and a reigning thorn in the Shockers' side.
"The run probably had more to do with our bench,'' UNI senior Ali Farokhmanesh said. "I think our bench was probably the biggest difference in that stretch and then probably in the entire game overall.''
Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson was also asked to give his insight into the 12:10 Shocker lapse.
"Defensively, we got better,'' he said. "Our starters at that point in the game should have had some juice in them and our bench was the key to that run.''
Enough about the 12:10. What about the other 1,352 minutes and 50 seconds of this season for Wichita State? What about the growth of a 25-win team that should be the Valley's preseason favorite — by a long shot — next season?
Marshall has the program in good shape. Everybody who saw the Shockers play in this tournament came away impressed with the team's ability and passion.
In so many past years, even Wichita State's best teams played poorly in St. Louis.
Not this one. The Shockers made it to a championship game for the first time in the 20 years the tournament has been played here.
WSU loses point guard Clevin Hannah from this team and has another 7-footer, Ehimen Orukpe, on the way. Marshall will sign another perimeter player, most likely a ball-handler.
The Shockers aren't through this season, but there's an even better future. Marshall has done more building. Soon, Wichita State will be able to break through a wall. Or even an O'Rear.