Wichita State basketball fans may still not be over the nerves experienced during the Shockers’ 89-86 win at Connecticut in double overtime on Sunday.
After WSU blew a nine-point lead in the final 65 seconds of regulation, the two overtime periods probably feel like a blur to most. But there were crucial plays made by Shockers in the 10 extra minutes that went a long way in helping WSU win.
Thanks to these 10 plays, ranked in chronological order, WSU is the last unbeaten in the American Athletic Conference, improved to 15-1 and moved up seven spots in the latest AP Top 25 Poll to No. 16 nationally this week.
1. Dexter Dennis is back, Part I
This season hasn’t gone the way that WSU has wanted for Dennis. He was mired in a slump for much of the opening months of the season, then took a three-game leave of absence last month. In his third game back, Dennis looked like the star player he can be.
Last season, it would have been no surprise for Dennis to pull the trigger on a go-ahead three attempt when WSU absolutely needed points. But this season? Dennis is shooting just 27% on threes, which is why some eyebrows were raised when Dennis caught the ball on the wing and decided to pull the trigger on a three-pointer 6 seconds into the shot clock with WSU trailing 73-71 midway through the first overtime. A miss and UConn would have had the chance to make it a two-possession game.
But WSU never had to face that situation because Dennis’ confidence in himself was rewarded, as his shot over the outstretched hands of UConn’s Sidney Wilson swished and the Shockers led 74-73 with 3:19 remaining in the first overtime.
It was arguably the biggest shot of the game for WSU since it was the last possession that it trailed in either overtime period. Dennis’ go-ahead shot didn’t win the game for WSU, but it saved the Shockers from possibly trailing by more and injected them (and Dennis) with the confidence needed down the stretch to pull out the win.
2. Dexter Dennis is back, Part II
If fans weren’t already celebrating the return of Dennis making spectacular plays after his three-pointer, they certainly were the next time down the floor when Dennis looked like the superstar player he has the potential to be.
UConn had just taken the lead back, 75-74 with less than three minutes left in the first overtime, when Dennis pulled off perhaps the smoothest off-the-dribble move of his career. WSU had Dennis set a back screen and pop to the wing. He set such a good screen that he actually was open for a split-second to fire away another three, but this time he holstered with one of UConn’s top defenders, Sidney Wilson, charging forward. Dennis took one dribble, hesitated to freeze Wilson, then exploded with a dribble past him on the baseline and finished an up-and-under move while being fouled by Wilson. The three-point play gave WSU the lead back, 77-75, and was its final points in the first overtime.
The emotion shown by Dennis after the play was clearly a release of pent-up frustration. Dennis finished with 16 points and seven rebounds, a performance that certainly qualifies as a slump-buster. If Dennis is back to making plays like this, WSU’s ceiling just raised even higher.
3. Jaime Echenique and Tyson Etienne hook up on opening-tip score
Sometimes all you need is eye contact. At least, that’s all that Jaime Echenique and Tyson Etienne needed to score off the opening tip-off of the second overtime. Usually when teams align for the tip-off, they will have three defenders back on its own side of the court. Inexplicably, UConn only had one defender back. Echenique recognized this alignment and noticed that Tyson Etienne was actually lined up closer to UConn’s basket than the closest UConn defender.
The only thing left was for Echenique to get a good jump, which he did, and the senior tapped the jump ball perfectly to lead Etienne straight into a fast break toward the UConn basket. Etienne did the rest, aggressively attacking a back-pedaling Josh Carlton, drawing the foul and somehow making the layup while sprawling through the air. And just like that, thanks to two head’s up plays, WSU led 80-77 in the second overtime after just three seconds.
4. Tyson Etienne’s instincts for the win, Part II
The freshman guard made yet another big play from his instincts in the first minute of the second overtime to get WSU off to a good start. UConn appeared ready to take the lead when Alterique Gilbert drove the lane, collapsed WSU’s defense and dumped off to a wide-open Josh Carlton who could have finished for a dunk and the lead. But Carlton wasn’t ready for the blind pass and the ball slipped through his fingers. Etienne was behind the play, but reacted quickly after Carlton missed the pass and beat Carlton in retrieving the loose ball in the corner while being fouled by Carlton. Etienne completed the four-point swing at the other end, making both free throws for the Shockers. Instead of trailing by one, WSU led 82-79 thanks to another heady play by Etienne.
5. Grant Sherfield bounces back in a big way
There’s no way getting around that Sherfield had more than his fair share of shaky moments for WSU trying to close out this game. But credit Marshall, who kept his trust in the freshman and that faith was rewarded in a big way in the second overtime.
Sherfield had actually just committed his fifth turnover against UConn’s full-court press moments earlier, but when Jamarius Burton scooped up a loose ball to start the fast break for WSU, none of that mattered. Sherfield jetted ahead, Burton passed him the ball and the 6-foot-1 freshman had no fear going straight at UConn’s 6-foot-9 shot-blocking specialist Akok Akok. Both jumped at the same time, but Sherfield had the strong base and Akok bounced off of him backward as Sherfield finished the layup with the foul to put WSU up 84-81 with 3:21 remaining in the second overtime. Sherfield missed the free throw, but this momentum-swinging play was still important for the Shockers.
6. WSU’s defense comes up with a crucial stop
With WSU clinging to an 84-81 lead entering the final two minutes of the second overtime, both teams were scrapping and clawing to try to come up with a valuable defensive stand. UConn’s Alterique Gilbert, who was a problem penetrating WSU’s defense throughout, tried to crack WSU’s defense on this possession again, but give credit to WSU big man Morris Udeze for coming off of his man to contain Gilbert. That stopped his progress and forced him to kick out to James Bouknight, who hasn’t made a three since the calendar turned over. Grant Sherfield was able to recover and challenge the shot and when Bouknight’s shot from three missed, WSU sealed three UConn players on box-outs and came up with the rebound that allowed the Shockers to run off more clock with a three-point lead.
7. Morris Udeze goes up and comes up big
It was a big blow when WSU’s starting center Jaime Echenique fouled out of the game early in the second overtime. Marshall had gone with Echenique for the final 11 minutes of regulation, all of the first overtime and the first minute of the second overtime. The big man had his best game of the season, tying his career-high of 19 points and adding eight rebounds. Those were big shoes to fill for backup center Morris Udeze, who Marshall turned to in the clutch.
Udeze delivered his first big moment (more to come shortly) by doing what he does best: chasing offensive rebounds. With WSU up 84-81 with under two minutes remaining in the second overtime, Jamarius Burton used a pick by Udeze and drove the lane, attracted Udeze’s defender and missed a layup (with contact) over UConn’s Josh Carlton. But because Carlton went for the block and didn’t get it, Udeze was left with position underneath the basket. He pulled down the offensive rebound while being fouled. Udeze, who had missed eight of 13 free throws the previous two games, managed to split his free throws to extend WSU’s lead to 85-81 and make it a two-possession game.
8. Jamarius Burton digs into his mid-range bag
Less than one year after every defense went under screens and begged Burton to shoot jump shots, the 6-foot-4 sophomore guard from Charlotte has become one of the best jump shooters, by percentages, in the country. Did you know that Burton is shooting 48.1% on two-point jumpers on 54 attempts this season, which ranks 26th nationally for players with at least that many attempts?
So with the clock under one minute remaining and WSU leading 85-83 in the second overtime, it should have been no surprise that Burton went to a pull-up jumper. He got the switch he wanted to, as Morris Udeze’s screen left Burton attacking UConn center Josh Carlton. Burton took one hard dribble toward the basket to get Carlton off balanced and gain separation, then pulled back for a free-throw line jumper that he made to extend WSU’s lead to 87-83 with 45 seconds remaining.
9. The freshman delivers in the clutch
Keep in mind that it would have been easy for a true freshman playing in just his second road game of his collegiate career to let past mistakes cloud his mind in such a clutch situation like he faced headed to the line with WSU clinging to an 87-86 lead with 26.7 seconds left. But Sherfield remained poised and calmly stepped to the line to sink both free throws to extend WSU’s lead to 89-86, a cushion that gave the Shockers a little more comfort down the stretch.
10. Morris Udeze takes charge
With WSU desperately looking for a defensive stop, up 89-86 with the clock under 20 seconds, it was Udeze who came through for the Shockers. Alterique Gilbert, like he did so many times down the stretch, penetrated WSU’s defense off the dribble. Waiting under the basket, Udeze had a split second to decide what to do. He made the right choice, sliding just past the restricted area and taking a charge with 16.1 seconds left to give WSU the ball back.
WSU fans probably felt like Tyson Etienne, who dropped to the floor to hug Udeze after the game-altering play. It didn’t seal the victory, but it should have for WSU.
“Sometimes we copy things from each other to get better,” said Jaime Echenique, who Udeze replaced in the second overtime and is superb at drawing charges as well. “Mo is a young player who listens a lot and is always willing to learn. I try to help him a lot on both ends and he’s doing so well. He did all of the right things there.”