By Michael Williams
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS – They are in a different time and place, the Wichita State Shockers, far removed from the 2013 Final Four appearance and the near-perfect season that followed. Wichita State’s 10th seed in the South region generated controversy on Selection Sunday, as its followers feeling that the Shockers were under appreciated.
And yet in another March, their NCAA tournament path will take a familiar route.
Wichita State-Kentucky. Again.
The Shockers defeated the seventh-seeded Dayton Flyers, 64-58, Friday night to advance to a second-round meeting with the Kentucky Wildcats on Sunday afternoon. Three years after what had been a 35-0 season ended with a 78-76 loss to the Wildcats, the two schools will meet in the second game of the afternoon doubleheader.
“They’re really good defensively,” said junior forward Zach Brown, who scored 12 points. “And they get out in transition, so we’re really going to have to get back. It’s going to be a grind.”
Wichita State (31-4) advanced for the sixth consecutive appearance. The victory was the 16th in a row, the second-longest streak in school history. Of those 16 victories, 14 were decided by 15 or more points.
Wichita State demonstrated that it can compete in the type of possession-by-possession game that was not the signature of its season. Wichita State averaged 82.1 points this season, and its average scoring margin of 19.6 points was second in the nation, behind Gonzaga. In the past 15 seasons, just three other teams have had an average margin of at least 19.0 points.
But this game was different. Wichita State’s largest lead was 8 points with 25 seconds to play. The largest Shocker lead in the first half was 3 points. For the first 14:19 of the second half, the largest lead for either team was 3 points. The score was tied 11 times and the lead changed 14 times.
“We weren’t fazed by the grind,” said senior Rashard Kelly, who scored 8 points with 11 rebounds. “We have 15 guys on this team, and we’ve practiced tough all season. This game was just like we practice at home.”
Landry Shamet lead the Shockers in scoring with 13 points. Shamet struggled on a 3-for-9 night, but he made 6 of 8 free throws.
“I thought that was one of the hardest played games we’ve been in in a long, long time,” said Dayton coach Archie Miller.
Nobody could fully take control in the first half. Dayton held the largest lead of the half with a four-point lead with one minute and 16 seconds left in the half. The Wichita State’s largest lead came only 20 seconds into the game. The teams saw nine lead changes in the first half while being tied four times.
Scoochie Smith lead all scorers in the first half with 15 points, including three of six from behind the arc.
“I was disappointed in the first half,” said Shockers coach Gregg Marshall. “I thought we were not executing,” he said.
Dayton senior guard Scoochie Smith lead all scorers with 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting, including 4 of 10 behind the arc. He was part of a senior class that won a Dayton-record 102 games.
Wichita State has won at least 30 games in four of the last five seasons. The Shockers have averaged 10 more points than they did last season, and their field goal percentage has increased from 32.4 to 40.8.
Despite all the victories, there was the No. 10 seed that appeared to question Wichita State’s achievements. The Shockers gave themselves an opportunity to address that old issue on Sunday. Marshall indirectly made his point Friday night.
“I would like to finish by saying that, once again, I think Dayton deserved a better draw in this tournament,” Marshall said. “I’ll finish with that.”