Shockers stunned in Orlando

Evan Pflugradt

Wichita State fell in the quarterfinals of the AdvoCare Invitational on Thanksgiving day Thursday in a matchup with Southern California.

The Shockers attempted a last-minute rally, but lost to USC 72-69.

“We need to get back to what we do, and that’s winning,” senior guard Ron Baker said.

The loss to USC marked the second loss of the season for the Shockers, only the program’s fourth regular season loss in the last three seasons.  

Impressive three-point shooting was the story for USC. The Trojans shot 60 percent from outside the perimeter in the second half, 52 percent on the game.

In a back-and-forth battle in the final minutes, the Shockers found defensive stops but couldn’t capitalize on the offensive end. Trailing four points under three minutes in the game, Baker blocked a shot under the basket and gave the Shockers life as they cut the lead to a point.

USC freshman Bennie Boatwright hit his fifth three of the game, but the Shockers kept it alive. WSU forced USC to their 23rd turnover of the game and Baker capitalized with a three-pointer, closing the gap to two points in the final seconds.

USC’s Julian Jacobs missed his first from the free-throw line, giving WSU a chance to stay alive. Zach Brown took the final shot, a three from near halfcourt that grazed the front of the rim, but fell off.

While the Shockers maintained the pace of the game, USC simply found ways to win. Boatwright led the charge for USC, scoring 22 points on 7-13 shooting. He hit two late threes in the final possessions, which kept USC one step ahead of the Shockers.

The 6’10″ forward was nearly impossible for WSU to contain. The Trojans stretched the floor, pulling out forwards to the perimeter, which opened up shots for guys in the post. Boatwright was 4-6 from three-point land in the second half. His 22 points was a career-high.

The Shockers rallied out a 12-0 second half run, halted by a USC three-pointer. The Trojans seemed to have an answer to every run Wichita State put together.

“Last year, was a stepping stone for us,” said USC guard Jordan McLaughlin. “Other teams would go on runs against us and we would get down on ourselves, but the experience helped us.”

The Trojans found themselves on the opposite end much of last season. They finished with a 12-20 finish last season with only three conference wins in the Pac-12.

USC challenged the pace of the game, running uptempo for much of the second half. USC head coach Andy Enfield attributed the fast pace of the game to an experienced and skilled backcourt, which created and made open shots in transition.

Enfield’s team entered the game averaging 92 points per game on 49 percent shooting, and the Trojans shot 45 percent from the floor against Wichita State.

“We had 72 tonight against Wichita State,” Enfield said. “That’s like 92 against most teams, they’re so good defensively.”

The loss marked the second game without starting point guard Fred VanVleet. In his absence, Baker assumed the point guard duties, sharing the backcourt with Zach Brown, who debuted in his first career start.

Baker struggled to find his teammates open shots, while still trying to create his own, something the senior has looked to VanVleet to do.

“It’s hard to be Fred VanVleet out there,” Baker said. “I try to be vocal on the court and run the team, just like the point guard for this team usually does.”

The Trojans pressured Baker, double-teaming him on most all ball screens.

Enfield joked the focus for the Trojans was to keep the ball out of Baker’s hands.

“After scoring 25 against us, I guess we did a great job of it,” he said.

Baker scored a game-high 25 points on 8-20 shooting, including 6-10 from three-point range.

“Baker’s an All-American for a reason,” Enfield said. “I couldn’t believe a couple of [the shots] that went in, but that’s why he’s an All-American.”

As Baker continues to lead the offense in the absence of VanVleet, he acknowledged that he can’t produce all his own. The Shockers will look to freshman Ty Taylor to step into the backcourt and produce in the remaining games.

Taylor finished with two points on 1-10 shooting with two turnovers in 18 minutes.

“[Taylor] should be playing a little bit,” said WSU head coach Gregg Marshall. “He shouldn’t be playing 18 minutes, probably should be playing six to eight minutes. But he’s going to play 18 minutes until we figure this thing out.”

Taylor seemed to hold his own, but the freshman couldn’t match the offensive showcase he put on against Emporia State, when he hit three consecutive three-point attempts over the Hornets.

“I’m trying to put good words in their mind to have the confidence to be out there,” Baker said.

Taylor has moved up the ranks as other freshman guard Landry Shamet did not travel with the team this week. Shamet underwent surgery to resolve a stress fracture in his foot Wednesday morning.

With a loss in the quarterfinals the Shockers will next get Alabama. The matchup with the Crimson Tide marks each teams’ fifth meeting in six seasons. The Shockers last defeated Alabama 53-52 at Charles Koch Arena last season.

Wichita State and Alabama will play at 11 a.m. Friday in Orlando, and will be broadcast on ESPN3.

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