Shockers fall in semifinals of Arch Madness

Evan Pflugradt

Nearly eight months ago, Anton Grady looked at a list. He had been granted release from Cleveland State, and with one year of eligibility remaining, he had narrowed the list to three: Iowa State, Xavier and Wichita State. Looking for NCAA Tournament experience, Grady joined Wichita State in May.

“Their mindset is not just getting into the tournament,” Grady said in May. “Their mindset is getting to the Final Four.”

Now, after a 57-52 overtime loss in Saturday’s semifinal game against Northern Iowa, Grady sits wondering if those dreams from May are still alive.

“It’s going to be a tough week, a lot of things going through my mind,” Grady said. “I believe we did enough to enter as an at-large seed for the NCAA Tournament. That’s what I’m praying for, I’m trying to keep the faith.”

Somberly together, seniors Fred VanVleet, Evan Wessel and Ron Baker huddled, silenced in disgust.

“We’re all pretty disappointed we came up short,” VanVleet said. “We didn’t want to put ourselves in this position. It’s a funny feeling, this is going to be a long week for us.”

Grady wonders if he’ll ever be in the NCAA Tournament; Baker, VanVleet and Wessel wonder if they’ll ever see it again.

Gregg Marshall pulled in his seniors to comfort them.

“We’re going to play again. It’s going to be the NCAA Tournament, and if not, the NIT,” Marshall said.

Wichita State recorded their worst shooting numbers of the season. They finished shooting 2-24 from three-point range, one from Conner Frankamp and another from VanVleet.

Sophomore Zach Brown scored two points, he missed all six of his shot attempts. Wessel missed four three-pointers and was scoreless. Baker and freshman Markis McDuffie each missed five three-pointers.

VanVleet missed a game-winning layup with four seconds left in regulation. In overtime, trailing three-points, VanVleet passed across court to Frankamp with two seconds left on the shot-clock, resulting in a shot-clock violation. UNI guard Wes Washpun banked in a two-point basket driving on McDuffie to put the game out of reach.

“I came off and was trying to make my read, I didn’t make it quite fast enough,” VanVleet said. “I threw it to Conner and put him in a terrible position. I don’t care what offense it is, anytime your point guard is not doing the right thing, it’s not going to work out for you.”

VanVleet continually shook his head in disgust, staring intensely at the floor. Short for words, he took the loss personally.

“I’m the hardest critic of myself,” he said. “I didn’t run it correctly down the stretch. I didn’t execute for our team.”

As time ticked on the loss settled on the seniors, each apologizing to one another. Uncharacteristic expressions of disappointment set in, their coach presented his final message trying to justify the mood.

“It’s my fault,” Marshall said. “When we win, we win as a team, but when we lose it’s my fault. I coach these guys really hard, but I love them. They’ll recover. We’re going to play. I hope for their sake it’s the NCAA Tournament.”

Friday, Wichita State overcame a seven-point second half deficit before rising to victory. On Saturday they were presented with a challenging eight-day wait, Selection Sunday on March 13th. Perhaps their most challenging barrier to overcome.

“If there’s a bubble, it’s a big one, and a lot of teams’ bubbles burst today, maybe we’re one of them,” Marshall said. “I hope they have watched us play in the course of our season, really, I hope these seniors get to play in the big dance.”