Learning from its mistakes earlier in the week, the Wichita State men’s basketball team kept its tunnel vision focused on scoring on the inside.
The result was the most comfortable road win of the season, as the Shockers drove in double figures by nearly 35 minutes in an 85-72 victory over East Carolina at Minges Coliseum in Greenville, NC Sunday afternoon.
“The message from the coaches was to find a way to play the full 40 minutes and that’s what we did,” said WSU star Craig Porter. “We realized the discrepancies we had and knew from the first time we played them that we excelled at getting the ball into the box and scoring in the lane.”
After squandering an 18-point lead in their last game against Tulane by abandoning the game plan inside out, WSU made no such mistake against ECU.
The Shockers did not allow the allure of the three-point field goal to tempt them, as they attempted 75% of their shots inside the arc. Instead of throwing threes, WSU worked the ball inside and attacked the basket consistently to finish with 56% accuracy on 2-pointers, a total of 27 free throws (with 22 accomplishments), and nearly double ECU (40-22 ) in dots in the paint.
“We just played smart,” said WSU head coach Isaac Brown. “Valuing basketball, not overturning it. We did a good job starting well and the boys defended at a high level. We put the ball in and played backhanded and won.”
WSU won three of their last four road games and jumped up to sixth place in the conference standings, improving to 11-10 overall and 4-5 in the American Athletic Conference. ECU fell to 11-11 overall and 2-7 in conference play.
It was the second most efficient outing of the season by the WSU offense, who averaged 1.21 points per possession. Porter had his second 20-point game of the season and added eight rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal. In his final 70 minutes, spanning the last two games, Porter has 12 assists on just one turnover.
James Rojas matched his career-high 19 points, capped by an 11-of-14 performance at the foul line, to go along with seven rebounds and four steals. WSU’s starting lineup scored 84 percent of the team’s points, as Jaykwon Walton (13 points, seven rebounds), Kenny Pohto (10 points), and Jaron Pierre (nine points) also scored well.
“We started playing inside out and put the ball in early,” said Rojas. “That’s what we focused on and capitalized on early on, then we started rolling it out and making some shots. It worked out quite well for us.
The victory was so clear-cut that it was easy to wonder how WSU could possibly lose to ECU by 10 points on their home field just a month ago.
While the Shockers certainly played a better game in the rematch, ECU was a completely different team for Sunday’s game without Javon Small, a dynamic guard who does a lot of heavy lifting (15.8 points, 5.6 assists) for the Pirates . Small missed his fourth straight game with injury Sunday, as ECU’s offense shot just 37 percent from the field.
It was clear that Brown’s message after three days of shooting was for WSU to impose its will internally. The Shockers followed orders and essentially created a layup line to the basket early, as Pierre, Pohto, Rojas and Walton all dunked during a 14-2 run to open a 20-6 lead in the first seven minutes of game.
For the second straight game, WSU scored nearly 50 points in the first half. On Sunday, WSU hit 60% of its shooting, hit 1.49 PPP, and held a 16-2 lead in points on fast breaks to open up a 49-28 halftime lead, the fifth-largest in a season. away game since 1970.
“Guys were flying around and shots were falling, it was a great feeling,” Rojas said. “This is how basketball should be. But we still need to be able to block when shots don’t drop.
In the Tulane loss, WSU allowed a 13-point halftime lead to shrink to four before the media’s first timeout. After excellent play for the first 17 minutes of play, WSU undid nearly all of its good work with poor playing time that kept the Green Wave’s hopes alive.
Given a second chance on Sunday, WSU handled a similar situation – for granted, against a different quality of opponent – much better.
The Shockers maintained their level of play and extended their lead into the first five minutes of the second half. They kept pushing until they saw their lead grow to 27 points.
“We were just focused on getting off to a good start because we tend to come out and be a little hesitant,” Porter said. “We just worked to keep our foot on the pedal and keep this thing going.”
The last seven minutes have not been good.
Brown was called for only the second technical foul of his career arguing a missed call with the officials. The unit on the bench was so sloppy, allowing a 27-point lead to be trimmed to 17 in two minutes, Brown had to reinstate the starters. With the lead secure at 23, Brown turned to the bench again in the final four minutes, only to see ECU finish the game on a 12-2 run.
In its first game at Minges Coliseum since 2019, WSU was without sophomore center Quincy Ballard, the 7-footer who missed his ninth game of the last 10 with a back injury. He made the trip and his return to court is uncertain given WSU’s new policy on disclosing injury information.
After an 0-3 start in conference play, the Shockers reached the half with a score of 4-5. The team returns to Wichita to host #2 Houston on Thursday. The teams played instant classics in their last two meetings at Koch Arena, as WSU knocked off No. 2 Houston. 6 in 2021 to secure an AAC title and then lost a double thriller to the Cougars in 2022.
“We can really build on this away win (ECU) and move forward from here on,” said Rojas. “If we put together a full 40 minutes, we can play against anyone.”