All season long, I've written about Wichita State's great depth and how the Shockers have been able to wear down opposing basketball teams and beat them into submission. It looked, to me, like a formula for a Missouri Valley Conference championship.
Stop the presses.
Sunday night, WSU discovered a potential negative byproduct of depth, one I didn't see coming. Needing a play in the final 52 seconds, the Shockers never found one, leading me to wonder if there's a go-to guy on this team and, if so, where he was Sunday.
A couple of in-bounds opportunities during the final minute turned into disasters and Missouri State, a tough team that has so far owned the Valley road, escaped Koch Arena with a 59-56 win.
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The Shockers clawed their way back from as many as 13 points down. A sellout crowd implored the team to sell out, and it did. When the Shockers took a 54-53 lead on a J.T. Durley tip with four minutes remaining, it looked as if a really tough night would have a good end.
But that was WSU's last basket. The Shockers scored two more points on Gabe Blair free throws.
In fact, there was only one field goal made in the final four minutes by either team, but it was a doozy. During a timeout to settle his team, Missouri State coach Cuonzo Martin designed a play for guard Adam Leonard. And, like magic, it worked.
Leonard hit a three-pointer from the baseline, in front of a bunch of screaming Shocker students, to put the Bears back on top 56-54.
Basketball coaches have all kinds of tricks up their sleeve for inbounds plays after time outs and WSU coach Gregg Marshall has been a master.
But not this time.
After a missed three-pointer by Leonard and a Durley rebound, the Shockers, down 57-56, called time with 52.2 seconds remaining and 18 seconds on the shot clock.
But the Shockers' designed play went nowhere. Toure Murry, who has made several big shots to win games during his career, this time was left to throw up a desperation three-pointer that missed everything.
After Missouri State's Nafis Ricks made the front end of a one-and-one with 23 seconds to play, the Shockers got another chance. Durley rebounded Nicks' miss and WSU called time with 12.5 seconds to play.
This inbounds play, though, was worse than the first. Murry, with nowhere to go, went up for a contested three-pointer, then decided to pass to teammate Graham Hatch. But Murry's pass went out of bounds and any chance of a WSU win went with it.
Missouri State had something to do with both busted plays. The Bears matched WSU's defensive intensity all night and are the most athletic team in the Valley. Nothing came easy for the Shockers, so it would have been silly to expect inbounds passes to work without a hitch.
Still, it was surprising to watch WSU stumble so badly with as much time as it had to work with on those plays. Nothing materialized. The Shockers didn't look like they knew what they were supposed to be doing.
"I've got to be very delicate on this one, but we didn't run what we called,'' Marshall said. "We didn't execute what we called.''
Marshall blamed himself, calling the botched plays "bad coaching.''
I don't agree. Marshall gave his players a plan but they didn't execute. Twice.
Durley, probably one of the main options down low on the final possession, couldn't free himself from the perimeter where he was setting screens.
"Option A didn't work,'' Durley said. "Option B didn't work and Toure tried to make a play.''
Murry declined an interview request and it would be wrong to pin the loss on him. He has done a commendable job playing point guard this season, even though it doesn't come naturally. He had an all-over-the-place line against Missouri State: three points, six turnovers, three assists, 11 rebounds.
Murry had no qualms about having the ball in his hands at crunch time, but was probably too intent on finding a shot instead of a pass.
It wasn't like anybody else got open, though.
The Shockers have been able to use their depth — 10 players worth — to wear out inferior teams. Matched against a like opponent, depth was just a five-letter word.
In the end, WSU needed a player to step up, someone to rise above the rest. It's hard to know who that player is.