Stevenson overcoming last season’s struggles to lead Shockers to hot start

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Stevenson overcoming last season’s struggles to lead Shockers to hot start

Wichita State sophomore Erik Stevenson attacks the basket during the game against Texas Southern on Saturday, Nov. 9.

Wichita State sophomore Erik Stevenson attacks the basket during the game against Texas Southern on Saturday, Nov. 9.

Morgan Anderson

Wichita State sophomore Erik Stevenson attacks the basket during the game against Texas Southern on Saturday, Nov. 9.

Morgan Anderson

Morgan Anderson

Wichita State sophomore Erik Stevenson attacks the basket during the game against Texas Southern on Saturday, Nov. 9.

Erik Stevenson isn’t the same player he was a year ago. The sophomore guard is down 12 pounds, can move around the court more easily, and is playing the game Head Coach Gregg Marshall has been wanting him to play.

Stevenson was recruited to be a shooter. After losing 11 players after the 2017-2018 season, Marshall needed to recruit shooters, and Stevenson was that guy. He broke Michael Porter Jr.’s Washington state tournament record with 118 points, a 29.5 per-game average, as well as the three-pointers made mark at 13.

However, when he arrived at WSU, Stevenson went through growing pains.

As a freshman, he was never able to find his shot from behind the arc. Stevenson shot a low 27.8% from deep and averaged 6.5 points per game. Fast forward to this year, and Marshall is comparing Stevenson to former Shocker star and NBA alumnus Ron Baker.

“I’ve heard the comparison before, but I’ve been hesitant to say it myself,” Marshall said on the radio after Tuesday’s win against South Carolina in the Cancun Challenge. “I would love for him to eventually become a pro and make a lot of money and handle his business as a big-time guy. And (Stevenson) is doing that now.”

But Stevenson isn’t getting these comparisons for his clutch shooting ability, as he’s shooting worse from behind the line through seven games than his average last season from three, at 26.3%. Instead, he’s made the jump with his playmaking abilities, whether that be passing or rebounding.

Stevenson is averaging the most minutes for the Shockers at 27.4 per game on the young season. He’s second on the team in plus-minus rating, as WSU is outscoring opponents by 84 points with the guard on the floor. Only Trey Wade, plus-102, has a higher rating.

Marshall said Stevenson’s passing ability is what stands out the most. After the game against Gardner-Webb, Marshall called him a “riverboat gambler,” but in a positive sense.

“Sometimes, he takes a little bit of a chance — he’s what you call a riverboat gambler,” Marshall said after the win. “He can really zip that ball to the intended receiver with some pace. Usually it’s on target. He has great vision.”

Like Baker, Stevenson has a knack for finding open shooters with the skip pass.

Stevenson is currently leading the team in assists with 23 total, which is an average of 3.3 per game. He has just five turnovers in total for the year. Against Oral Roberts, Stevenson had a career-high nine assists in a near triple double performance. He also finished with nine points and eight rebounds in the game, proving his versatility.

Stevenson is doing a little bit of everything for this Shocker team.

Even though he is still struggling to find his shot, Stevenson is leading the team in scoring with 13.6 points per game. During the Cancun Challenge, he led the team in scoring both games with 19 points against South Carolina and 22 points in the loss to West Virginia. Stevenson was selected to the All-Tournament team for his efforts, along with fellow sophomore guard Jamarius Burton.

Stevenson will look to continue his hot streak on Thursday against Central Arkansas inside Charles Koch Arena. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.