Day After: Wichita State at VCU

Score: Wichita State 53, VCU 51

Key stats: WSU held the Rams to 34.7-percent shooting and harassed them into 12 missed free throws. The Shockers committed four second-half turnovers.

How the game turned: WSU never trailed after Malcolm Armstead beat VCU’s press and passed to Demetric Williams, who hit Carl Hall with a bounce pass in the lane for a layup. Hall’s basket (he missed a free throw) put WSU up 44-43 with two minutes remaining. WSU scored on five of its final six possessions, capped by Armstead’s tie-breaking jumper with 3.8 seconds remaining.

Records: WSU 2-0, VCU 1-1

  • Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall believes his team, no matter the amount of change, can be an NCAA Tournament team. Tuesday’s victory at VCU should prove that to his most important constituency – his players. If they were unsure of their abilities in the wake of losing five seniors, beating VCU offers affirmation. Before the game, he told them the game would not make or break their NCAA hopes. A win, however, should signal the reality of the situation. “This, I think gives us, at least, the recognition of the young men in our locker room that we have a chance,” Marshall said. “That’s what I’ve been telling them all along. We have a chance. There’s things we’ve got to do better, but we did those things tonight.” In a week, we will know a lot more about WSU’s place in the national scene. The Shockers can approach the four games in the Cancun Challenge as ways to build an NCAA resume, instead of starting one. “We’ve got continue to work harder,” WSU junior Cleanthony Early said. “On paper, they try to say we’re a bunch of new guys that aren’t that good. But Coach made a statement that they can’t read our heart.”
  • More than most opponents, defending VCU is connected to playing offense. The Rams weren’t a good shooting team (41 percent, 33.4 from three) last season when they dumped WSU from the NCAA Tournament. They lost leading scorer Bradford Burgess, so it figures this team might be looking for offense. The key is not to give it to them, and WSU did by limiting its turnovers, turnovers which led to easy baskets and bad shots. The Rams didn’t score after a WSU turnover until the second half and finished with nine points off turnovers. WSU’s defense kept VCU’s guards from penetrating and the big men protected the rim. Carl Hall blocked three shots. Ehimen Orukpe and Cleanthony Early both blocked two. Malcolm Armstead (four steals) and Demetric Williams (two steals) played defense every bit as physically and aggressively as the Rams. As a result, WSU held VCU to its lowest point total since a 71-51 loss to George Mason in 2010-11.
  • VCU did miss 12 free throws.
  • WSU will face road tests equal to Tuesday. Only Creighton offers the probability of being significantly tougher than VCU’s combination of talent and hostile atmosphere. The Shockers started three players – Ron Baker, Ehimen Orukpe and Evan Wessel – new to playing in those situations. Early was in junior college last season. Armstead didn’t play while sitting out after transferring from Oregon. Yet, the Shockers handled it like veterans, better than veteran Shocker teams did in equally intense arenas such as Utah State. “We hoped to continue with our ability to win on the road,” Marshall said. “We did it. Maybe that’s a good sign for future endeavors on the road.” WSU is 19-3 in road games the past two seasons.
  • Hall went 6 for 15 from the field, missing numerous shots at the rim. VCU’s defense does that to many scorers. “I miss shots I normally make,” he said. “That rim, boy, it’s very loose. It you don’t make it directly it’s not going to go in.”
  • WSU’s guard play the past three seasons stands out. Armstead is a worthy successor to Clevin Hannah and Joe Ragland, although with a different style. He is a better defender and more of a driver and passer. He won’t shoot as well as those two, both of whom rank among the best at WSU. It’s clear Armstead has the confidence of his teammates in tight situations. “We just tell him go one-on-one, just make a good decision,” Hall said. Armstead played a big role in keeping WSU’s tempo sane against VCU’s presses. “He sets the poise of the game,” Baker said. “At the very beginning, when they try to speed you up, Malcolm was good enough to slow our team down and get us into our set.”
  • Marshall shortened his rotation, as expected. He played 11, eight of them significant minutes.
  • Both coaches were asked about continuing the series after three thrillers. Neither said no. Smart seemed less interested than Marshall. “It’s something Shaka and I can discuss,” Marshall said. “Maybe now it would be something we could continue.” Mark Turgeon and Jim Larranaga took the same questions after a three-game set between WSU and George Mason. Nothing happened. My guess would be VCU sees less need to start a tough series with a team halfway across the country than WSU might. The Rams can find comparable opponents closer to home.  Has the series accumulated enough name recognition for ESPN to get interested? It didn’t work that way with George Mason-WSU.
  • Visiting teams dress in locker room No. 13 and the pass code is 13*. The black cat was a casualty of budget cuts.

Next up: vs. Western Carolina, 7 p.m. Thursday