Score: Wichita State 70, Ohio State 66
Key stats: Ohio State shot 31.1 percent from the field, lowest since it made 30.8 percent in a December loss to Kansas. WSU made 8 of 20 threes and blocked nine shots, most by any Buckeyes opponent this season.
How the game turned: Tekele Cotton’s three-pointer from the wing with 2:21 to play ended Ohio State’s 6-0 run and steadied the Shockers with a 65-59 lead.
Records: WSU 30-8, Ohio State 29-8
- “Leave no doubt” was one of WSU coach Gregg Marshall’s slogans last season, his appeal to his team to win convincingly. That message applies to the NCAA Tournament. Until Saturday, a cynic might chose to poke holes in WSU’s tournament, diminishing the win over Gonzaga as one over an artificially flavored top seed. The win over second-seeded Ohio State makes all that immaterial. The Buckeyes entered the game on an 11-game win streak, beating Michigan State twice and Wisconsin and winning at Indiana. It’s been a Big 10 season, at least until now, and the Shockers handled one of its big boys. “Tremendous, unbelievable basketball team,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “They’re playing as well as any team we’ve played this year.” WSU matched Ohio State’s physical abilities, even while giving up several inches and more than a few pounds. It didn’t matter in the stats – WSU blocked nine shots and out-rebounded the Buckeyes. The blocks seemed to weigh on the Buckeyes and kept them from getting comfortable shooting in the lane. “They did a phenomenal job,” Ohio State guard Aaron Craft said. “They’ve got shot blockers down there that blocked quite a few shots and that really had us on our heels.”
- Cotton has recorded as many big plays as any Shocker in the tournament. He picks his moments exceedingly well. On Saturday, he made a three-pointer to stop Ohio State’s momentum late in the game. Just as important, he battled LaQuinton Ross, a Buckeye six inches taller, for an offensive rebound in the final two minutes, leading to Fred VanVleet’s basket for a 67-61 lead. “That is the biggest play to me,” Ross said. “That is still running in my head. Going up for that rebound and knowing I had it in my hands. Guy came over the top and swiped it, got the ball.” Marshall expects those contributions from a guy he refers to as a strong safety willing to come up in run support. “A huge athletic play by a really tough kid who makes those kind of plays,” Marshall said.
- Marshall is embracing the NCAA Tournament in a way not all coaches do. Some coaches endure the hype and the spotlight, grimacing through games and interviews. Not Marshall. He is enjoying every second, telling stories about Winthrop, teasing his players and dancing with the band. Before each game, he looks into the crowd and seems amazed at the support. His thoughts as WSU’s lead dwindled turned to the 2007 NCAA Tournament, when Notre Dame rallied against Winthrop. “We got a 20-point lead against Notre Dame, a team that notoriously known for not pressing,” he said. “Well, when you’re down 20 in the NCAA Tournament, that’s what you do. I didn’t have my guys prepared for it, so it was on me. I think we thought the game was over. Twelve minutes to go, up 20, and they started whittling away.” Marshall, 0-6 in the NCAA, starts worrying about his legacy. “The thought went through my mind that I could be the dumbest coach in America,” he said. Winthrop won. So did Wichita State. All coaches watch leads disappear. Not on Saturday for the Shockers. “They never took the lead,” he said. “My guys made plays at the end.”
- Ohio State made a strong push in the final seven minutes, cutting WSU’s lead from 60-45 to 62-59. The Buckeyes pressed and caused turnovers. The Shockers looked tired. They looked a bit bewildered by the swing in momentum. Cotton was slow to step inbounds after passing and turned the ball over when he caught the return pass. Armstead made a silly foul that gave the Buckeyes free throws. WSU, however, built just enough of a lead. It righted things with two scores and free throws in the minutes. “At the end of the day, we just stay together,” VanVleet said. “We keep fighting. We keep grinding.” Cotton said Marshall, during a timeout, asked the players if this situation appealed to them, had it been offered, in November. “Take advantage of it _ and that’s what we did,” Cotton said. “We were still ahead. We’ve still got this game. We were a couple minutes away from the Final Four.”
- While watching a few highlights, the thing that stands out is the number of open shots the Shockers get. Those shots don’t seem to be there in MVC play
Next up: vs. Louisville or Duke, Saturday, Atlanta