‘We’re a whole different team’: How Wichita State went from 1-6 in conference to the semifinals of the AAC tournament

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‘We’re a whole different team’: How Wichita State went from 1-6 in conference to the semifinals of the AAC tournament

Wichita State senior Markis McDuffie shoots a three-pointer during the game against Temple on March 15, 2019 at the FedExForum. It was the first made three-point shot of the game for the Shockers. (Photo by Joseph Barringhaus/The Sunflower).

Wichita State senior Markis McDuffie shoots a three-pointer during the game against Temple on March 15, 2019 at the FedExForum. It was the first made three-point shot of the game for the Shockers. (Photo by Joseph Barringhaus/The Sunflower).

Joseph Barringhaus

Wichita State senior Markis McDuffie shoots a three-pointer during the game against Temple on March 15, 2019 at the FedExForum. It was the first made three-point shot of the game for the Shockers. (Photo by Joseph Barringhaus/The Sunflower).

Joseph Barringhaus

Joseph Barringhaus

Wichita State senior Markis McDuffie shoots a three-pointer during the game against Temple on March 15, 2019 at the FedExForum. It was the first made three-point shot of the game for the Shockers. (Photo by Joseph Barringhaus/The Sunflower).

Freshman Dexter Dennis spent part of the week watching film from Wichita State’s early conference games.

In January, Wichita State was a different team — a bad team. The Shockers won just one game in seven outings. The team sunk to the bottom half of the conference standings.

Dennis can’t hardly recognize himself in old film from the Shockers’ bad stretches.

“You’re like ‘I don’t know who this guy is.'”

Joseph Barringhaus
Wichita State guard Dexter Dennis receives a pass from guard Erik Stevenson and finishes the dunk with 33 seconds left in the second half. Stevenson threw the homerun pass to beat Temple’s full-court pressure. The dunk put the Shockers up 79-73. (Photo by Joseph Barringhaus/The Sunflower).

It was in late January and February when Wichita State transformed its seven freshmen into experienced veterans — guys who could propel the Shockers into the semifinals of the conference tournament. It took time. Meshing seven freshmen and a collection of junior college transfers into a high-performance competitor took time.

“We’re all great friends with great chemistry on and off the court,” said sophomore Asbjørn Midtgaard, the team’s third-most veteran player. “We just needed to play with each other a little more.”

Midtgaard needed time learn how to screen for Jamarius Burton and Erik Stevenson. Burton needed time on the court to learn where Midtgaard liked to catch the ball. These transformations only happen with in-game experience, Midtgaard said.

Joseph Barringhaus
Wichita State guard Asbjøurn Midtgaard dunks the ball during the second half of the game against Temple on March 15, 2019 at the FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Joseph Barringhaus/The Sunflower).

“We’re getting minutes,” said Erik Stevenson of the team’s seven freshmen. “We’re getting experience to try and make a run in March.

We’ve got one team out of the way. We’re ready for another one,” Stevenson said ahead of Wichita State’s semifinal meeting with Cincinnati. 

The Shockers have relied on the senior presence of lone four-year seniors Markis McDuffie, who scored a career-best 34 points in the quarterfinals against Temple. It’s clear, McDuffie wants to extend his senior season.

Joseph Barringhaus
Wichita State forward Markis McDuffie takes a shot during the second half of the game against Temple on March 15, 2019 at the FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Joseph Barringhaus/The Sunflower).

“Markis is unbelievable, I can’t lie,” Dennis said. “Markis has been carrying us all year.”

He (McDuffie) has to work twice as hard because he is denied at every point of the game,” Midtgaard said. “He’s a great leader. He’s had a great season. What a player.” 

Despite successes, players believed the team’s season would be defined by the result of Friday’s quarterfinal.

“This was make it or break it,” Stevenson said. “We lose this game, we probably don’t make any tournament. You win this game, you obviously go to the NIT. We win two more, we’re in the big dance.”

Wichita State will next play Cincinnati at 4 p.m. Saturday in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament. The winner of that game will play in the championship game at 2:15 p.m. Sunday.

Joseph Barringhaus
Wichita State sophomore Asbjørn Midtgaard and freshman Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler laugh after the win against Temple on March 15, 2019 at the FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Joseph Barringhaus/The Sunflower).