Score: Wichita State 73, Pittsburgh 55
Key stats: The Panthers shot 35.2 percent from the field and missed 16 of 17 three-pointers. WSU scored 21 points off 15 Pitt turnovers.
How the game turned: A three-pointer by Tekele Cotton gave WSU a 38-31 lead with 12:44 to play and started a 12-4 run that Cotton later highlighted with two steals and a dunk. Pitt briefly cut the lead to eight points, but never made a serious challenge.
- You can’t accuse WSU coach Gregg Marshall of being inflexible. Against Drake in January, he wouldn’t play Cleanthony Early in the first half with two fouls and he wouldn’t call a timeout after giving up a 4-0 run in the first half. March is different. When the Panthers made a mini-run (perhaps not so mini in a low-scoring game) to go up 19-17, Marshall called timeout. “I’m not big on timeouts, but that was a good one,” he said. “Four points is a lot of points in that half the way the game was going and I didn’t want them to build on that momentum.” Early, with two fouls, came back in and made a jump shot to tie the score. He tied it again at 21-all with a layup and WSU took the lead for good on Chadrack Lufile’s layup. “It wasn’t a no-brainer,” Marshall said. “I don’t like to do that because then they can get a third foul. I was going offense/defense with him at that latter part of the half and trying to say ‘Don’t get that third foul.’”
- The flagrant foul rule came under scrutiny on Thursday, in part thanks to Doug Gottlieb’s protests during the broadcast. The Shockers benefited, although Marshall agrees the rule is a problem. By rule, the call was correct. WSU’s Ron Baker took an elbow the head, unintentional as it was. “The rule that we have in place is a rule that I think we’re going to need to clean up,” Marshall said.
- I expected a lot better from Pitt, and so did Marshall. He expressed amazement at beating a well-coached team by 18 points. “They give up 55 points a game. . . and we scored 73,” Marshall said. “That just doesn’t happen, not to a Jamie Dixon-coached team.”
- The Panthers missed some open shots, no doubt. Ultimately, however, WSU’s defense gets the credit for Pitt’s miserable shooting. The effort looks even more impressive when considering Pitt was at 43 points with 4:05 to play and added 12 meaningless points at a time the Shockers willingly traded baskets and didn’t want to foul. “In the guts of the game, our defense was incredible,” Marshall said.
- Pitt reminded me of the Syracuse team WSU beat in 2006 and the UConn team I watched up close in Washington D.C., beating Washington in an epic overtime game and losing to George Mason in the 2006 NCAA Tournament. All three played a kind of arrogant, uninspired basketball that wasn’t enjoyable to watch. Pitt acted as if it didn’t want to be there and beating WSU wasn’t worth much energy. My tendency is to overrate Big East teams, because it’s the Big East. Up close, they often seem to be filled with physical specimens who aren’t particularly skilled at passing, shooting and dribbling. While it’s a great basketball conference, that proved to be the case on Thursday. The Panthers didn’t play well and the Shockers contributed to that by playing harder and smarter for 40 minutes.
- Since going 3 for 5 from three-point range against Missouri State, WSU guard Ron Baker is 2 of 13.
- The difference between one NCAA win and two is not proportionate. One win is good. Two brings an extra week of attention, love and practice time. One-game winners make the round of 32. Two-game winners go to the Sweet 16 (and in WSU’s case a potential matchup with Kansas State in Los Angeles). Dick Vitale was on SportsCenter going crazy over WSU on Thursday night. One more win and the Shockers get a week of that treatment. It’s not program-changing – we see that every year with programs who slip back to their normal level after the Sweet 16. It can be a huge help.
Next up: vs. Gonzaga, 7:40 p.m. Saturday (TNT)