Marshall earns 400th win as Shockers trounce Hornets

Evan Pflugradt

Wichita State defeated in-state rival Emporia State University on Saturday.

The victory marked head coach Gregg Marshall’s 400th career victory. Marshall becomes the 12th-fastest District I coach to earn 400 career wins, reaching the mark in his 18th season.  

The game marked a runaway victory for the No. 9 Shockers, who led the game 38-13 at the half.

“Today was all about getting our swagger back,” senior Ron Baker said.

The Shockers recorded the team’s 34th consecutive home victory in light of routing the Hornets by a margin of 22. The Hornets were held to five field goals on offense in the first half, as the Shockers took control of the game tempo early.  

The Shockers kept point guard Fred VanVleet on the bench, who is nursing a left hamstring injury.

With VanVleet sidelined, freshman Landry Shamet earned his first career start as a Shocker, pairing the backcourt with Baker. As WSU continues to rest VanVleet for the upcoming Advocare Invitational on Thursday in Orlando, Shamet and freshman Ty Taylor earned hefty minutes.

“The backcourt rotation continued to show a lack of depth,” Baker said. “I’m pretty tired.”

Baker racked up 39 minutes against Tulsa and 31 against ESU. Baker has stepped into the point guard position in the last two games, something that Marshall said he thinks he can excel at.  

“I think [Baker] can play the [point guard] position well,” Marshall said.

In his career spent mostly at the shooting guard, Baker said stepping into that role is a challenge all it’s own.

“When I am playing the [point], I have to try to create my own shot while looking for other guys on the floor for open shots,” he said.

Marshall said his point guards need to be able to communicate and run the floor, and Baker did just so.

On an inbound pass by ESU, Baker called out the set and shouted to freshman Eric Hamilton to cover the pass. Hamilton noticed the errant pass and intercepted the ball in open court as he hustled down for the emphatic one-handed dunk that electrified the crowd.

With injuries lingering for their All-American point guard VanVleet, the team continues looking for alternatives. Baker said the young guys on the team need to rise to the occasion.  

“We have to find ways to win without him,” Baker said. “(Fred) won’t get near as much time in Orlando.”

With important games in a weekend tournament quickly approaching. Marshall eagerly awaits the return of his floor general, but the wait may come as a little longer if the injury continues to holdout the offense.

“Based upon what I’ve researched, the probability of recurring injury to the hamstring is very good unless you heal it back to 100 percent,” Marshall said.  “There will be no push on my end.”

Marshall said VanVleet looked like his “normal self” last Monday in practice before suiting up against Tulsa. VanVleet aggravated the injury in the opening minutes of gameplay, but Marshall didn’t recognize the setback to his point guard.

“I couldn’t tell that he was laboring,” Marshall said.  “There was nothing in transition, no burst to the basket, there was no defense because he couldn’t.”

Freshmen players stole the spotlight against the Hornets. The guard play of Taylor and Shamet assisted in the backcourt as the offense continued to run through Baker. Taylor used the opportunity to build his confidence. The freshman led all scorers in the first half of play with nine points, all coming on three-for-three three-pointers.

Marshall is quickly working on building Taylor to master the duties of VanVleet. Marshall noted he requires his point guards to take responsibility for running the offense, playing tremendous defense, taking care of the basketball, finding open shooters and taking the open shot when it’s available.

Marshall said Taylor is best suited at taking open shots and creating his own shot, but the coach voiced his concern with the freshman.

“He can score, but he’s got to get the other parts down,” Marshall said.  

The Shockers are learning to play in new ways without VanVleet, knowing that his minutes may be limited in the upcoming weekend tournament the pressure builds on the frontcourt to step up their production on offense.

Senior Anton Grady went 1-5 from the field, scoring four points in 24 minutes. With Grady struggling to find shots and draw contact the Shockers looked for other players to step up, and then the call came to senior Tom “Bush” Wamukota.

Wamukota stepped in to snag seven rebounds, four offensive, in 14 minutes of play. Wamukota’s seven boards and six points was good enough for Marshall to name him his most improved player.

“The guy I thought made the biggest improvement from the Tulsa game was Bush Wamukota,” Marshall said. “He rebounded the ball above the crowd, had a really tremendous defensive play, and then came up with a loose ball.”

The Shockers travel for the Advocare Invitational played at the HP Fieldhouse in Orlando, Florida. The Shockers start the tournament with the first game against the University of Southern California at 1 p.m. Thursday.

The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.