Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz: Morris can be really good when he’s not sitting

Wichita State's Shaq Morris, rear, defends Augusta's Tyvez Monroe during the first half of their game at Koch Arena on Saturday.
Wichita State's Shaq Morris, rear, defends Augusta's Tyvez Monroe during the first half of their game at Koch Arena on Saturday. The Wichita Eagle

Wichita State’s Shaq Morris begins his junior season with 187 fouls in 950 minutes, which is essentially a foul every five minutes.

Morris can be 30 feet away from a play, yet when he hears a whistle he just assumes he’s fouled somebody.

It happened a couple of times in Saturday’s tight 73-67 exhibition win over Augusta (Ga.), but this time the 6-foot-8, 265-pound Morris, who could knock over a fire hydrant just by bumping up against it, got off scot-free.

In fact, Morris played 21 minutes, up 33 percent from what he’s averaged during his previous two seasons. And he was called for one foul.

“There were a couple of times I thought I fouled, but I was surprised I didn’t,” Morris said.

The Eagle's Bob Lutz and Paul Suellentrop discuss Wichita State's 73-67 win over Augusta on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016.

At least not in the opinion of the officials.

The key for Morris is, of course, staying out of foul trouble and being on the floor more. If he can succeed, we could see more performances like the one he had against Augusta. Morris led the Shockers with 24 points, had seven rebounds and made 9 of 11 shots.

He scored the final seven WSU points and they were desperately needed after Augusta senior guard Keshun Sherrill nearly shot the Jaguars all the way back from a 22-point second-half deficit.

It’s doubtful anyone at Koch Arena expected their hearts to race down to the wire of an exhibition game. But Sherrill, who got as hot as a shooter can get in the final 15 minutes, made sure everyone’s blood was pumping.

It was Morris, though, who took control in the final moments and showed us, once again, how good he can be.

When he — repeat after me — stays out of foul trouble and is on the floor more.

There is another element with Morris, too, and it involves staying healthy and well.

Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall talks about his team's closer-than-expected exhibition win over Augusta on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016.

“It’s not just about injuries with Shaq, it’s about sickness,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “He’s really been in and out of practice for us. When he’s in practice and really engaged, yes, this is the kind of player we’ve seen. But he’s probably missed about 40 percent of our practices this fall.”

Morris, who has had knee issues, said he was recently diagnosed as suffering from migraine headaches and that he suffered a concussion during a practice last week that has made it difficult for him to work out.

“I didn’t really know what was going on with the headaches, so thanks to my trainers and the physicians for figuring that out,” Morris said. “I’ve been doing better with that and the concussion is better, too. I had a good week of practice this past week. I think I’m getting past some of this stuff.”

Morris is one of the most important Wichita State players as the Shockers try to figure out life after Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet.

Marshall said he’s doing more coaching than he’s done in a couple of seasons as he tries to bring along a younger, less-experienced group.

“There’s been quite a bit of film study using all of our available days and hours for practice,” Marshall said. “I have to keep coaching these guys and staying positive. There are going to be games when we look good and games where we don’t.”

Saturday, there were disparate halves. There were signs of encouragement and a few things that’ll keep Marshall from falling asleep easily.

The Shockers had too many turnovers (15) and the defense came and went, especially when Sherrill — after a 1-for-8 first half — found his touch.

Conner Frankamp and Landry Shamet were effective as a backcourt tandem. Shamet had 12 points and seven assists while Frankamp had eight points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals.

Morris, though, was the difference. He’s shown the ability to pack a lot of numbers into a little playing time, but strives to average at least 20 minutes and would like that number to even inch higher.

It’ll be up to the refs some, though, and up to how much Morris can avoid the silly fouls that have plagued his Wichita State career.

“Shaq has worked really hard to try and improve his conditioning,” Marshall said. “And I love the fact that he only had one foul tonight.”

In a game where Morris put up so many crooked numbers, it’s the 1 that drew the most attention.

“This game was a huge step forward for me,” Morris said. “I’m starting to realize how effective I can be if I can play 20 minutes or more. I didn’t get tired in this game at all because (Marshall) did a great job of pulling me and putting me in. This shows that the offseason grind and the extra time I’ve put in which (strength coach) Kerry Rosenboom has paid off. I’m really happy.”