Armstead the spark plug in Wichita’s upset win

SALT LAKE CITY – Senior Malcolm Armstead took out loans to cover his tuition at Wichita State last year because the program was a scholarship short when he transferred from Oregon, and he took work at an automobile dealership to help pay them off.

Delivering cars. Changing the oil. Handling mechanical issues. He did it for days like Thursday.

Armstead had 22 points, making all nine of his free-throw attempts, and added five assists to lift ninth-seeded Wichita State to a lopsided 73-55 win over Pitt in a second-round NCAA West subregional game at Energy Solutions Arena.

“It’s worth it. I made it to the tourney. We won our first game. But I’m not satisfied,” Armstead said.

The Shockers (27-8) advanced to a second-round game against top-ranked Gonzaga with a victory that helped erase the sting of their 62-59 loss to Virginia Commonwealth as a No. 5 seed in a second-round game last year.

Wichita State coaches knew what they had in Armstead, a two-year starter for Oregon who moved after a coaching change, but finding the hours to work and attend practice did not make for a perfect redshirt experience.  

“Sometimes coach would allow me to miss practice, because he understood the situation. It was something that I needed,” Armstead said.

Armstead, a 6-foot-1 guard, helped in a physical defense that held Pitt leading scorer Tray Woodall to a 1-of-12 performance from the field with no 3-pointers. Woodall, who averaged 11.8 points a game this season, had just two points in the loss. Pitt shot 35.2 percent from the field, only getting above 30 percent with a late-game flurry, and was 1 for 17 from 3-point range.

“It’s a bitter taste in my mouth to end my career with one of the worst games I ever played,” Woodall said, fighting back tears. “I’m sorry to let my team down.”

Wichita State forward Cleanthony Early had 21 points and seven rebounds, and forward Carl Hall had 11 points and six rebounds to help Wichita to a 37-32 rebounding advantage while going against Pitt 7-foot New Zealander Steve Adams, who had 13 points and 11 rebounds.   

Next up: Gonzaga 7-footer Kelly Olynyk.

“At the end of the day, rankings go out the window,” Armstead said. “Pittsburgh was eight (seed). We were nine. At the end of the day, we have to go play basketball. They are a good team. They execute. They have a great coach. It is a matter of us having fun and doing what we do. Bring it.”

Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon, a native of North Hollywood who has been mentioned prominently as a candidate for the full-time Southern California job, was asked if he expected to return to Pitt next year after a 24-9 season.

“That’s the farthest thing from my mind,” he said, also getting emotional.