Turnovers continue to fuel the Wichita State men’s basketball team’s late-game slump.
The latest disaster struck Wednesday when the Shockers failed to protect an 8-point lead in the final three minutes of regulation, as four consecutive turnovers helped an 11-0 run for Tulane, who rallied to force the overtime and won 95-90.
This was on the heels of an even bigger implosion last Sunday, as WSU melted away against all-out pressure from SMU, committing five turnovers in a span of seven possessions to clinch a 13-point lead in just more than two minutes.
WSU saved a win in the SMU game, but the Shockers (10-10, 3-5 AAC) last gameweek exposed glaring midgame weakness in the American Athletic Conference, which continues with the Sunday’s trip to Eastern Carolina (11-10, 2-6 AAC).
“It’s just our inability to protect these contacts,” WSU coach Isaac Brown said when asked what bothered him the most after Wednesday’s loss.
“We made some imprudent turnovers, not being strong with the ball. If you’re not good with the ball, the teams will make you pay. It’s something we need to get back to training and keep working on.”
While ball safety is certainly high on the list of needed improvements, WSU’s turnovers during close games come in a variety of ways.
Against Tulane, WSU paid double the price for trying to waste time with the lead, as they failed to field a shot in time to avoid a shot clock violation and then, on their next possession, were caught in the same situation, only this time James Rojas stepped onto the baseline in a desperate attempt to beat the shot clock.
“Once we stopped trying to be aggressive and slowed the ball, we started making last-second shots in the shot clock and that got us out of our rhythm,” said WSU point guard Craig Porter: “I thought that also led us to be apathetic defensively. It was like one thing led to another.”
The final turnover in regulation against Tulane was like a nightmarish flashback to just three days earlier when WSU crumbled against SMU’s all-out press.
After reviewing film of WSU fights, Brown made the decision to have Rojas throw the ball at the Tulane press and act as a safety valve for WSU’s press break along with the guards.
Rojas filled his role for most of the game, also carrying the ball to break up full-court pressure a handful of times for WSU. While Rojas’ ball handling is enough for a 6-foot-6 man, asking him to consistently dribble under pressure was always going to be a tall order for someone who has the highest turnover rate (25.1%) on the team.
With the game tied at 71 and the clock ticking down under 40 seconds, Rojas tossed the ball to Jaron Pierre Jr. and stood back to relieve the pressure. When Rojas caught a pass, he dribbled left-handed over the halfway line with Tulane’s Kevin Cross falling backwards. For a split second, everyone stopped – even Rojas dribbling – waiting for the referees to make a block or charge call. But there was no whistle and Tulane’s Sion James took advantage, coming from behind Rojas to clear the ball.
Pierre was able to recover the ball in the backcourt, but when he attempted to carry the ball back across the half, the ball was also cleared from behind. James rallied the steal, dunked while fouled, and converted a three-point play to put Tulane ahead 74-71 with 22.6 seconds.
“We could have won, but we don’t dwell on games like this,” said Pierre. “Once it’s over, it’s over. We’re on to our next game.”
While WSU may choose not to dwell on the win that could have been, it should choose to learn from its mistakes.
It’s not the amount of turnovers WSU is committing — it actually ranks top 100 nationally (#93) in limiting them — it’s when the Shockers commit turnovers.
WSU had a 10-point lead over Missouri with five minutes left in regulation, but turned the ball over four times in a span of seven possessions and ultimately fell 88–84 in overtime. Just a few days later, WSU had a chance to beat Kansas State, now ranked fifth in the country, but turned the ball over on its last four possessions and didn’t even attempt a shot in the last two minutes of a 55-50 loss .
Multiple turnovers also nullified comeback attempts when the Shockers were within striking distance in the final eight minutes of the second half in games against UCF, East Carolina and Memphis.
“It’s been a roller coaster, but everyone stays together,” said WSU junior Jaykwon Walton. “We have a long season ahead of us. Let’s stay positive and we will definitely get more wins.
While turnovers may have cost the Shockers in the closing minutes of regulation, their shot selection was why they squandered their 18-point lead by halftime.
When WSU opened up a 41-23 lead with 3:30 remaining in the first half, the Shockers were playing inside-out through center Kenny Pohto (13 points in the first half) and managing to almost always get a splash of paint against The Tulane Match Zone, which resulted in 9 of 14 shots in the paint.
“We were moving the ball, making good shots and being aggressive against the zone,” Porter said. “We listened to what the coach said and he prepared us well. I felt like we had the ball inside against their zone and we drove in and found the open man and shot.
At halftime, Tulane head coach Ron Hunter trusted what the season numbers told him about WSU’s shooting start (7-of-15) beyond the arc. The Shockers entered as one of the worst shooting teams in the country, making just 29% of their threes at one of the worst 30 rates nationally.
“I kept telling our guys the percentages had to come back,” Hunter said. “They were exciting and the crowd was really energizing them. I told our boys at half-time: ‘If you can get below 10, the crowd will start to get restless and they will start to miss some of those shots.'”
Not only were WSU’s percentages in the second half more in line with WSU’s ice-cold numbers for the season, but the Shockers, seemingly emboldened by their hot start beyond the arc, became infatuated with throwing three-pointers in the second half .
Instead of staying patient, waiting to get the ball inside to Pohto and trying to attack the paint — the game plan that was working in the first half — WSU developed a quick trigger and started taking threes the first time a player was semi-open only.
Even with shooting in focus, WSU’s three-point rate when it built its 18-point lead was only 41%. In the final three minutes of the first half and 20 minutes of the second half, 23 of WSU’s 38 shots (an astronomical 61% three-point percentage) went beyond the arc.
“Obviously we wanted to get in more, but Tulane is playing that area for a reason,” Brown said. “They pack it up and it’s hard to get it in sometimes. They force you to take a lot of threes, but we have to be smart enough to fire fake, lower and drive it and still try to get it to the paint. When we play backhand, we play well.”
After the timeouts, WSU was better at looking inward. But as the game continued, it was as if Brown’s words in the conversation slipped out of the player’s mind.
It was a small win for Tulane each time WSU elected to shoot three more without giving Pohto the ball inside. Ultimately, the Shockers had attempted a season-high 38 triples, just one of the most in school history.
“Our whole agreement is that we want you to shoot lots of threes,” said Hunter, whose team ranks in the bottom 50 nationally in three-point defense. “They ended up shooting 38 threes. I don’t know if they fired that many all year. For a team that isn’t a great three-point shooting team, that’s what we wanted even though they were making them early.