‘What a difference a year makes:’ Stevenson, Sherfield shine as Shockers take down Sooners in grudge match

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‘What a difference a year makes:’ Stevenson, Sherfield shine as Shockers take down Sooners in grudge match

Shockers celebrate after winning against Oklahoma at Intrust Bank Arena Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019.

Shockers celebrate after winning against Oklahoma at Intrust Bank Arena Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019.

Selena Favela

Shockers celebrate after winning against Oklahoma at Intrust Bank Arena Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019.

Selena Favela

Selena Favela

Shockers celebrate after winning against Oklahoma at Intrust Bank Arena Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019.

When the final buzzer sounded, Wichita State Head Coach Gregg Marshall embraced his freshman point guard Grant Sherfield. After making his way through the hand shakeline, Marshall was walking briskly off of the court when he paused. He turned around and made three directional points toward the more than 10,000 people in the crowd.

It was his way of saying thank you.

Emotions were running high. With the amount of story lines coming into Saturday night, this game against the Sooners was more than just a game. A year ago, the Shockers traveled to Oklahoma City to take on OU. They were dismantled 80-48.

“What a difference a year makes,” Marshall said in his post-game press conference. “We went down there last year with Markis (McDuffie) and Samajae (Haynes-Jones) and a bunch of newbies and got our head handed to us – we didn’t have the resolve or the toughness to compete with Oklahoma and they took us to the woodshed.

“To have the opportunity to watch our team demonstrate the resolve and the toughness today was just a testament to them and how they’ve grown and how they know now what it takes to win against a very talented team and a well-coached team like Oklahoma. I’m so proud of our guys.”

The 80-75 victory is win No. 9 for the Shockers. Last season, WSU didn’t record their ninth win until Jan. 30, in their 20th game of the year.

But it wasn’t just last year’s wallop that injected emotion into the game. It was also former Shocker Austin Reaves’s first game back in Wichita since transferring from the program after the 2017-2018 season. Reaves’ sudden departure seems like an eternity ago, considering the roster overhaul that occurred after that season. Only one scholarship player remains from that roster – junior center Asbjørn Midtgaard.

Selena Favela
Former Shocker Austin Reaves goes through warmups with Oklahoma prior to the game against Wichita State on Saturday inside INTRUST Bank Arena.

Reaves came into the game averaging more than 17 points per game, a team-high for OU. Rightfully so, he’s been in their starting rotation. On Saturday, Reaves didn’t receive much love from the Shocker fan base.

As he was introduced, boos rained down on him all the way up from the rafters inside INTRUST Bank Arena. Every time the junior guard touched the ball, the pro-Shocker crowd let him hear it. His every missed shot resulted in an eruption of joy from the stands. Several anti-Reaves chants could also be heard emanating from the WSU student section.

Reaves, you suck. We’re better without you.

It wasn’t just the crowd that had it out for Reaves. It was the Shockers on the court as well. Marshall’s game plan was to throw multiple bodies at the guard to try to make his night difficult – it worked.

Reaves finished the night with 13 points on 5-13 shooting. His two three-pointers (2-8) didn’t come until the Sooners were in desperation mode with less than two minutes remaining.

“We just tried to run different guys at him (Reaves),” Marshall said. “He’s obviously a very good player, but we just wanted to wear on him a little bit, and I think we did. He made some, but he also missed a lot. When you force a team’s best player to go 5-13 [from the field], you’ve got a pretty good chance.”

Sophomore guard Jamarius Burton drew the assignment on Reaves to start the game. But it was sophomore Erik Stevenson who would finish the game on the sharpshooter, and he made him visibly frustrated. Stevenson left everything on the court, especially when he was guarding Reaves.

Selena Favela
Wichita State’s Erik Stevenson guards Oklahoma’s Austin Reaves during the game Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019.

On multiple occasions, Stevenson sacrificed his body, stepping in front of Reaves to try and get a foul called. On one play, Stevenson jumped in front of Reaves and a block was called on the Shocker.

Stevenson smacked the floor in disappointment, and the crowd had his back. His passion was spilling out onto the floor.

“Erik is obviously in the right program,” Marshall said. “He loves being a Shocker, he loves Shocker nation, he loves the energy that was in INTRUST Bank Arena today, [and] he loves winning. He had some big-time shots in the first half . . . but he logged a tremendous amount of minutes and he was a catalyst as well. He was instrumental in us winning.”

The sophomore led the charge offensively for the Shockers, tallying 16 points on an efficient 6-11 shooting performance. He also knocked down four three-pointers and grabbed seven rebounds.

However, what few know is that Stevenson had a personal grudge motivating him throughout the course of the game. When Stevenson committed to WSU after high school, he heard a lot of criticism. Even last season, he heard people tell him he was only playing because of Reaves’s departure. So Saturday, Stevenson elected to prove he belongs.

“I took that personal, obviously,” Stevenson said. “For the majority of the game, except a couple of shots, he (Reaves) was locked down. I don’t really like OU. They left a bad taste in my mouth from last year. They just kind of walk around like they’re better than everybody.”

Without their bench play, WSU might not have pulled off the resume-building win. The Shocker bench outscored the Sooners’ reserves 31-9. Sherfield led the charge for the bench players, totaling 14 points on the night. But with 7:14 left in the game, Sherfield was in during the most crucial part of the game – a 12-0 run that saw an 8-point Oklahoma lead turn into a 4-point Shocker lead. It wasn’t just the offensive spurt that Sherfield helped create with his floaters. It was a defensive effort too.

During the run, the Shockers held the Sooners to 0-6 shooting, resulting in a scoring drought that lasted for more than four minutes. Prior to the run, Oklahoma was given an 83.6% chance to win, according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index. After the run, the Shockers were in the game’s cockpit and given a 83.1% chance to win, according to the same metric.

“You notice he (Sherfield) was defending well too. It wasn’t just his offense; it was his defense,” Marshall said of his freshman. “He was getting deflections, he was jamming it up from the weak side when he was on a non-shooter, and I thought his performance today was a catalyst for that big win.

“He played the best basketball he’s played. Today was by far his best game because he shined in a huge moment.”

It was a total team effort. The Shockers out-rebounded the Sooners 48-31, led by junior Trey Wade, who grabbed a career-high 15 boards. Five of those were on the offensive end. WSU’s 18 free throws (18-20) also proved to be pivotal down the stretch.

“Really excited for what we are now,” Marshall said. “But more importantly for what we can become, because that’s a team with 10 underclassmen.”

Up next, the Shockers will be back in Charles Koch Arena to square off against Virginia Commonwealth next Saturday. Tip is scheduled for 11 a.m.

Selena Favela
Shockers celebrate after winning against Oklahoma at Intrust Bank Arena on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019.