The Shockers were able to outplay one of the nation's stingiest defenses to advance. (Jaime Green/Wichita Eagle/MCT via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY -- Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall had anticipated a physical, tough, low-scoring game between his Shockers and Pitt in the West Region’s 8-9 matchup. What he didn’t expect was an easy 73-55 victory. “We thought that the game was going to go down to a last possession, (where) you’re going to have to make a play or defensive stop or grab a rebound,” said Marshall as he sat, still flummoxed, on a folding chair outside the Shockers locker room. “Tonight we won by 18 points. I’m pleased our guys played well enough in every phase to make that happen. We outrebound them by five? They give up 55 points a game, which is sixth in the country! And we score 73? That doesn’t happen, not to a Jamie Dixon-coached team.”
It did today. Against one of the stingiest defenses in the country, with their three-point shots refusing to fall (they were 2-20 from the field) the Shockers relied on tough team defense, rebounding -- they outrebounded the Panthers, whose 7.1 rebound margin was 13th in the nation, far-better-than-usual free throw shooting (80.5 percent compared to 68.8 percent average) and bruising physicality to advance to the Round of 32. It wasn’t as easy as the final score indicated. “All week the coaches had talked about how physical Pitt was,” said freshman guard Ron Baker. “But it still surprised me how physical they were. I tried to foul (7-foot freshman) Steven Adams on a shot and his forearm went right through me for an and-one.”
But these Shockers, who lost their top five scorers from last season and had to make do without three starters who missed long stretches of the season with injuries, have found ways to win all season. “Tonight they found a way,” said Marshall. "It was Tekele Cotton’s defense, it was Malcolm Armstead being a maestro, it was Cleanthony Early figuring out how he could score in side the arc. It was great interior defense by Carl [Hall], and Ehimen [Orukpe]. CJ Lufile has huge basket. I put him because of the foul trouble. He gets a big basket for us. He hadn’t played for us in a month! Points were a premium and there he was finding an easy deuce.”
Before his players headed to the showers, Marshall had told them he was proud of their performance, but he left them with one question: "Are you satisfied with this?”
We’ll find out on Saturday.