The matchup between No. 7 Wichita State and No. 2 Kansas was one that folks in the Sunflower State have been looking to see for quite some time. With the two programs being the best in the state at this time, Sunday’s matchup in Omaha was seen as long overdue given the fact that the Shockers and Jayhawks hadn’t met since 1993.
Gregg Marshall’s team took full advantage of the opportunity, as they erased an eight-point first half deficit by the intermission and took over from there. Wichita State won by the final score of 78-65, earning a trip to Cleveland for next week’s Midwest Regional against No. 3 Notre Dame. The Shockers received contributions from stars and role players alike, and they were simply the tougher team on the court.
While the three-headed perimeter attack of Tekele Cotton (19 points, two rebounds, three assists), Fred Van Vleet (17 points, six rebounds, six assists) and Ron Baker (12 points, three rebounds, two assists) were all productive, the contributions of Evan Wessel and Zach Brown were important as well.
With Darius Carter (ten points, four rebounds) and Shaq Morris both saddled with early foul trouble the undersized Wessel provided Wichita State with both toughness and perimeter shooting. Despite playing against a bigger front line, Wessel accounted for 12 points (four three-pointers) and nine rebounds and his three-pointer with 4:15 remaining in the first half sparked the 13-2 run that gave Wichita State a three-point lead at the intermission.
Wessel (nine points on 3-for-5 3PT) and Brown (five of his seven points) combined to score 14 points in the second half, a period in which Wichita State carved up the Kansas defense. Van Vleet was able to make plays off the dribble against the Jayhawks’ man defense, and an ill-fated shift to zone simply resulted in the Shockers finding open perimeter shooters. Kansas had no answer from a strategic standpoint, but the bigger issue was that Bill Self’s team couldn’t answer the call from a toughness standpoint either.
Wayne Selden went scoreless, missing all five of his shots from the field, and Kelly Oubre wasn’t much better as he tallied nine points on 3-for-9 shooting. If not for Frank Mason III (16 points, six rebounds), Perry Ellis (17 points, eight rebounds) and Devonte’ Graham (17 points, three assists) the margin would have been much worse and Landen Lucas’ ten rebounds can’t be overlooked either.
But overall, Kansas didn’t have the same conviction to get to where they needed to go on the floor as Wichita State and that hurt them offensively.
The Jayhawks shot just 35.1 percent from the field, as Wichita State’s defense limited the number of quality looks Kansas could find. Add in the fact that Wichita State shot 59.3 percent in the second half, and the Shockers were able to eliminate any chance of a comeback down the stretch.
With this win the Shockers have now won 30 games or more in each of the last three seasons, with last year’s 35-1 campaign sandwiched in between a Final Four run in 2013 and this year’s Sweet 16 appearance. Their motto of “play angry” reveals Wichita State’s intention every time they step on the floor, and failing to match the Shockers in that regard will result in defeat. Kansas learned that the hard way in Omaha Sunday evening.