Shockers lose in knockdown, dragout affair

Ben Weixlmann, a 2011 Saint Louis University graduate, covers SLU men’s basketball and Atlantic 10 recruiting for on the FOX/ network.  Weixlmann’s work has been featured on many national outlets, including MSN, FOX Sports and BleacherReport.

Trailing top-seeded Creighton by 11 points with 3:32 remaining in the MVC Championship, the Wichita State Shockers were seemingly out of it.

But senior Malcolm Armstead wasn’t ready to quit.  The Oregon transfer, who wanted to reach the NCAA Tournament so badly that he paid his own way to come to Wichita, poured in a career-high 28 points and nine rebounds. His triple with 43 seconds left cut the Bluejays’ lead to one.

Creighton junior guard Jahenns Manigat’s layin with 12 seconds left created the final spread as Armstead’s 25-foot contested three-point attempt went tumbling off the left side of the rim.

With a 26-8 overall record and 12-6 MVC performance, Wichita State will more than likely get into the NCAA Tournament.  But head coach Gregg Marshall was resigned to sadness.  His group of seniors, including Armstead, that he cherished so much never got to celebrate a league title.

“I’m just disappointed they haven’t cut nets down yet,” he said.  “I do believe that the group that’s in the locker room will do so many times.  I don’t know how many, but I think it will be multiple times in the next two, three years.”

It looked bleak on more than just one occasion for the Shockers.  A scoring barrage by Ethan Wragge put CU up 19-7 after both teams started ice-cold from the field, beginning the game a combined 0-for-15.  Then, at some point, the Law of Averages came into play.  The wild finish more than made up for the nervous beginning.

Despite All-American Doug McDermott getting much of the attention and Armstead firing on all cylinders, perhaps the best battle was between big men — pitting Gregory Echenique of Creighton and WSU’s workhorse Carl Hall.  Hall, who had dominated many opponents in the paint all year, was stymied and failed to find a rhythm.

“[Gregory]’s just big and he makes it tough on you trying to score over him or going through him,” he said.  “He makes things difficult on the block because of his size and weight.”

The paint issues were somewhat of a microcosm for the afternoon as a whole. Since 2010, the Shockers are 75-14 when outrebounding their opponent, something they did not do today.

“To me, it felt like we were Muhammad Ali out there boxing the whole time,” freshman guard Ron Baker said.  “Went through all the rounds.  We were on the ropes there after the last media timeout, and we fought back.”

In a knockdown, dragout affair, Creighton landed the final blow.

Marshall and his team have an immediate future to get prepared for, though.  A much-needed day off for players and staff included will give way to more hardwork next week.

As grueling as coaching is, the WSU head man was pleased that his players stuck to it until the end and showed significant mental fortitude.

“It’s a labor of love because it’s hard,” he said.  “It’s emotionally taxing.   The ups-and-downs.  It’s physically demanding. . .and hopefully the guys can heal their nicks and bruises, and we can start getting better on Wednesday.”

A push in The Big Dance will be well-worth the agony for Marshall and his staff, who are trying hard to provide a fitting and successful end for a quality bunch of seniors.