There were some dark moments in the hours following Wichita State’s 67-66 loss to Notre Dame in the Maui Invitational championship game nearly two weeks ago.
Gregg Marshall called the final 19 seconds — where WSU had a three-point lead and the ball, then somehow lost — the “toughest 19 seconds I’ve dealt with as a coach.”
Wichita State University’s basketball coach Gregg Marshall talks about his team’s loss to Notre Dame in the Maui Invitational championship game. (Nov. 22, 2017)
The loss took the biggest mental toll on Austin Reaves, who felt like he was at the center of the loss. He had an inbounds pass swiped from his hands for a layup, then he missed the front-end of a one-and-one free throw to give Notre Dame the chance it needed to win.
“I know you don’t win or lose on one or two plays, but I do take a lot of responsibility for that game,” Reaves said. “If I do make those plays, 10 times out of 10 we win that game.
“But if I had to do the Notre Dame game over again, I would put myself back at the line. I know it didn’t fall the right way that time, but I trust myself out there to make those plays.”
Reaves’ self-confidence has remained in tact in part due to his teammates; Reaves said they unanimously supported him following the loss. There was no finger-pointing, no blame-assigning. The team took the loss as a team.
“That meant a lot to have my teammates still believe in me,” Reaves said. “I was pretty down on myself and they picked me up. It’s a blessing to be on this team. So I blacked out what everybody else was saying because it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. All that matters is what my coach and my teammates say.”
It’s one thing to say those things, but it’s another to follow through with actions that back it up.
Marshall did both when he trusted Reaves down the stretch against Baylor, inserting the sophomore for the final five minutes to close out a crucial game last Saturday in Waco.
Reaves delivered the most important pass of the game, whipping the ball to the corner to beat Baylor’s zone and give Conner Frankamp an open three-pointer to break a 62-all tie with 2:50 remaining. He also collected three rebounds and made a pair of free throws to seal WSU’s 69-62 victory.
Just as he promised, Reaves made the winning plays.
“It was good to see him have some success after not having the same success against Notre Dame,” Marshall said. “Because he’s a good player who really cares about winning and losing and helping his teammates.”
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It’s easy to forget Reaves missed this entire summer due to shoulder surgery, then also dealt with a nagging foot issue at the start of the season. He wasn’t able to put in the work in the weight room, where he wanted to build his strength.
Not that you could tell by Reaves’ play through seven games. He’s taken on a larger role, averaging 18 minutes and producing 6.1 points and 3.5 rebounds. He’s shooting 46 percent from the field and 39 percent from beyond the arc.
It would have been easy for one game to derail Reaves’ confidence, but the sophomore from Newark, Ark., said that wasn’t an option playing for Marshall.
“If you come to a film session after you have a bad game, you’ll understand,” Reaves said. “You’ve got to turn it around quick. You can’t think about what you did wrong. You got to fix it and move on and not dwell on it.”