Wichita State didn’t have any business winning on Tuesday night at home against Alabama. The No. 11 Shockers were outplayed for a large chunk of the second half and found themselves in a grind-it-out game against the Crimson Tide.
Finding themselves down 51-40 with 5:54 left after a Shannon Hale three-pointer, Wichita State ramped up its full-court pressure and didn’t allow another field goal the rest of the game as Shocker forward Darius Carter’s dunk with 12 seconds left was the go-ahead bucket in a thrilling 53-52 win. The victory gives the Shockers (8-1) 23 consecutive home wins and they needed nearly every second of this one to keep that streak alive. It also marked the second consecutive game that Wichita State rallied from a double-digit, second-half deficit to win as the Shockers beat Detroit on the road last week.
On a night where both teams slowed it down and worked long half-court possessions, the Crimson Tide took control with a 25-24 lead at the end of the first half and led until the go-ahead Carter dunk at the end of the game. Alabama’s defense contained Wichita State’s offense and limited them to jumpers and contested looks until the final six minutes, when Shocker guards Ron Baker (14 points) and Fred VanVleet (nine points, seven rebounds, five assists) were finally able to make some plays off-the-dribble and finish at the rim.
Once the Tide’s main rim protector, Jimmie Taylor, fouled out with 4:27 left, Baker and VanVleet finished with more consistency around the basket and attacked the lane with ferocity. Carter was also able to free up for the big dunk for the win off of a VanVleet drive and assist at the end of the game and Carter’s team-high 16 points were huge on a night where senior guard Tekele Cotton was cold and went scoreless. Wichita State still looks like they are trying to find a consistent offensive identity without Cleanthony Early on the wing this season.
The offense struggled for much of Tuesday, but the Shockers used their experience and the backing of a tremendous home crowd to will their way to victory. They never got rattled, their pressure defense came through when it mattered and the big-name guys stepped up in the clutch.
Wichita State isn’t as talented or as dynamic as last season with Early, but these two second-half comeback wins show that this team can still make big plays and rally around each other in the final minutes of a game to pull out a victory.
As for Alabama, they need to figure out their press-break situation and find a reliable third option who can remain consistent. The Crimson Tide should be encouraged that they stuck with a top-15 team on the road but these are the types of games you can’t let slip away. If Alabama considers itself a NCAA Tournament team, guard play will be key for them in the SEC this season if they match up against a talented backcourt.