It is difficult to imagine Wichita State’s 67-66 loss to Notre Dame in the Maui Invitational championship on Wednesday night as anything other than a crushing defeat.
This was a game No. 6 Wichita State should have won. The Shockers had the opportunity to register a marquee victory over a big-name opponent in front of a national audience and instead they allowed a 16-point lead to dissipate and botched an end-of-game situation where they led by three with the ball and 19 seconds left and managed to lose in regulation.
But coach Gregg Marshall was unusually upbeat following such a devastating blow. Maybe it was because it was Thanksgiving Eve, but Marshall chose to count his blessings instead of bemoan what could have been on Wednesday evening.
“A lot of guys in that locker room are crushed, but that’s what I love about them because they’re winners,” Marshall said. “They’re champions. They didn’t win this championship, but they’re champions and they’ll be champions at some point.”
Senior Zach Brown said it was a somber locker room following the game, but it was a performance Wichita State still had plenty to be proud of.
“Big emotions in the locker room, but at the end of the day we’re going to hold our heads high,” said Brown, who scored 14 points and led the team in scoring. “We played a hell of a game and I’m proud of everybody in that locker room.
“Just a couple more seconds, just one more play. Just certain individual things that we’ve got to continue to work on. We’re going to come back way stronger than this.”
Here are other takeaways from Wichita State’s first loss of the season:
Did Wichita State absolutely need that win?
The simple answer is no.
Maybe if Wichita State still played in the Missouri Valley, but now the Shockers still have more opportunities against top-25 competition left on the schedule. WSU will likely have two ranked games against new American foe Cincinnati, as well as upcoming non-conference gamest against Baylor and Oklahoma.
“This only helps us, it doesn’t hurt us,” Marshall said. “I don’t think losing to that caliber of basketball team is going to hurt us. It was the first close game we’ve been in and hopefully we can learn from this.”
Wichita State is still missing one of its best players in Markis McDuffie, who is still approximately a month away from his return from a stress fracture suffered late in the summer.
The Shockers’ zone woes continue
For the first 25 minutes of the game, Wichita State shredded a respectable defense in Notre Dame.
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The Shockers built a lead as large as 16 in the first half and maintained the double-digit advantage into the first media timeout of the second half. That’s when Notre Dame coach Mike Brey decided to switch to a 2-3 zone.
“We couldn’t guard them man-to-man,” Brey said. “Their man stuff is so downhill at you, they come down on you hard. We’re a pretty good defensive team, I think, but we just couldn’t deal with it.”
Wichita State’s offense bogged down against the zone and the Shockers never looked the same in the final 16 minutes, as their lead slipped away. The most pressing issue WSU faces leaving Hawaii is its zone offense.
“A lot of teams change their rhythm when they’re running their zone offense,” Brey said. “Maybe they get a little bashful when they’re shooting the jump shot.”
With a 62-53 lead and seven minutes remaining, Wichita State had 10 possessions to close out the game against Notre Dame’s zone. The Shockers missed seven of nine shots, committed three turnovers, and came away with eight empty possessions.
A closer look shows Wichita State settling for outside shots against the zone, instead of attempting ball penetration or a pass to the middle of the zone. The two occasions WSU did score were when Landry Shamet used a high ball screen and cut into the middle of the zone and made shots near the free-throw line. When WSU didn’t attack the middle, every other possession ended without points.
“That’s something I’m sure we’ll work on when we get back,” Conner Frankamp said.
Although Wichita State possesses five shooters on the court at all times, it is struggling to create the same clean looks its man offense is generating. Too often the Shockers are left at the end of a dwindling shot clock and forced to take a deep or rushed three-pointer.
Frankamp was on the end of a couple of such threes. After scoring 12 points and appearing to bust out of his offensive slump in the first half, Frankamp missed all five of his shots in the second half against the zone and didn’t score.
“I just missed some open shots,” Frankamp said. “I had some good looks and they didn’t fall down for me. That’s just how it goes sometimes. I’ll get back and get right back in the gym.”
Zach Brown’s career-high goes to waste
Behind a career-high four three-pointers from Zach Brown, Wichita State looked poised to bust out of its shooting slump from the outside in Maui.
But too many desperation heaves down the stretch cratered WSU’s outside shooting percentage, as the team finished just 8 of 23 from beyond the arc. That’s still an improvement over the 27 percent it had shot in the first two games, but it was a disappointing finish as the Shockers missed their final five three-pointers.
Brown was an unlikely spark, as he entered Wednesday’s game shooting just 23 percent from the floor, averaging 3.3 points, and having missed eight of his nine three-pointers. Brown made 4 of 5 shots from distance against Notre Dame and led WSU in scoring with 14 points.
“Keeping my head up, really,” Brown said. “Always staying confident shooting the ball. I could go 1 for 30 and shoot the next one with major confidence. That’s all it really is. Some people could go in the gym and put up 1,000 shots, but if they don’t have confidence they’re not going to make the shot.”
Brey turns casual Maui into a hit
“Casual Maui” was what college basketball pundits on Twitter were calling Mike Brey’s attire to games in Maui this week.
Many found it amusing Brey showed up to games in shorts and a t-shirt, as ESPN commentator Jay Bilas routinely pointed out during broadcasts.
After winning the championship, Brey lobbied for the look to be included in the Maui collage of champions.
“We said we wanted to have our name up on this wall and we felt our program was one of those programs that deserves to be on the Maui wall here,” Brey said. “I’m thrilled and we will be back here in four years to check it out when it’s up on the wall. Maybe it will be a picture of me with a t-shirt on.”
Brey was curious after the game if his outfit generated any copycats back in South Bend.
“I want to know how many of these shirts we’ve sold in our bookstore the last three days,” Brey said. “They’ve gotten a lot of pub, I hear.”
One writer asked Brey if he would consider rocking the shorts-and-shirt look back in the mainland.
“You know, we play south of the Mason-Dixon line,” Brey said. “I’m wondering if I should rock this on Tobacco Road. No, I think I’ll keep this look for Maui.
“I’m wondering next year if Maui will put in a dress code for coaches or more coaches will go with the practice look. I’ll be very interested to see.”