James Durham, as far as I can remember, hadn’t officiated a basketball game at Koch Arena before being assigned to Wednesday night’s Wichita State game against Bradley.
And for a long time Durham seemed to be doing what officials are supposed to do – going unnoticed.
That all changed, though, early in the second half when he called a charging foul against WSU point guard Fred VanVleet. The call almost sent Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall through Koch’s roof. He glared, he stared, he winced and he expressed anger the way only Marshall can express anger.
But Durham wasn’t done. Soon after whistling VanVleet’s third foul, he called a moving screen on the Shockers’ Rashard Kelly, one of five moving screen calls made in the game.
This time, Marshall tore off his coat jacket and tossed it. He screamed. When Durham came close to the Shocker bench, let’s just say Marshall didn’t hand him a mint.
According to statsheet.com, which tracks college basketball officials, Durham was working his 15th game of the season. He had called six technical fouls in the previous 14 and how he didn’t T-up Marshall is a miracle. The man must be tolerant.
“At that point, I didn’t care,” Marshall said when asked if he was trying to get a technical foul. “They needed to know that what they were doing was unsatisfactory in my eyes.”
So was, by the way, what his team was going. While all of this craziness was happening, the Shockers and Braves were locked in some atrocious basketball. Seven points were scored in the first 6:54 of the second half. Bradley, which ended up losing 63-43, took a 32-31 lead with 12:26 to play.
That’s when the Shockers took off, only this time it was Marshall and the crowd who were playing angry. The players had no choice but to jump on the wave of turbulence.
“I thought there were too many calls that were not properly adjudicated,” Marshall said, picking his words carefully. “I didn’t like it.”
Officials rarely are the cause for the outcome of a game. But in this case, Durham had more than a bit part. And it wasn’t because he’s a terrible official, but because of the way Marshall blew up and the chain reaction it caused. Durham ignited Marshall, Marshall ignited the crowd, the crowd ignited the Shockers.
I can’t tell you whether VanVleet should have been called for charging or not. Nor do I know whether Kelly’s screen was illegal, though it’s been a while since I’ve seen five called in a game.
What is undeniable is how the lethargic Shockers finally took off after Durham’s calls, outscoring Bradley 32-11 in the final 12:26.
“I usually don’t feed off of officials because there can be too much emotion sometimes when you don’t like a call,” said Shocker junior guard Ron Baker, whose consecutive three-pointers in the second half gave the Shockers a five-point lead. “I usually feed off of our coach.”
Marshall’s emotions provided the Shockers with a five-course meal.
“It’s been a long, long, long time since I’ve had a technical foul,” Marshall said. “Probably three years and maybe four. But at that point I was ready to swallow one.”
During a timeout after the illegal screen call on Kelly, the fans booed when a woman brought Durham a cup of water near the baseline near the Wichita State student section. The man needs to drink.
They continued to jeer Durham while a weather report was being given on the scoreboard’s television screen. If Wichitans are distracted enough to not pay attention to a weather report, something pretty serious is going on.
The Shockers, meanwhile, started making a few shots. Mostly, though, they started rebounding, whipping the Braves by 13 on the boards in the second half after an even first half. And Wichita State defended, holding offensively-challenged Bradley to 18.2-percent shooting (4 of 22) after halftime.
Big guys Darius Carter and Shaq Morris combined for 29 points and 14 rebounds, the biggest positive of the night. Morris, a redshirt freshman who wasn’t even on the team charter to Des Moines on New Year’s Eve because he wasn’t performing well enough in practice, has had two nice games in a row.
That’s great news because Morris, if properly motivated, can be a special player. He’s huge (6-foot-7, 260 pounds) but plays nimble.
“Five straight days now that he’s been really good,” Marshall said. “He’s coming. I’m sure it won’t be just a continual upward trend like on a bar graph; I’m sure there will be a setback somewhere. But he’s certainly helped us win the last two games.”
Marshall, though, was at the forefront of Wednesday’s win. He went ballistic. The crowd went ballistic. The Shockers, they just knew, had been wronged. But those same Shockers made it right.