Point guard play proving to be key in early season success for Shockers

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Point guard play proving to be key in early season success for Shockers

Freshman Grant Sherfield attacks the basket while VCU defends during the game on Saturday, Dec. 21 inside Charles Koch Arena.

Freshman Grant Sherfield attacks the basket while VCU defends during the game on Saturday, Dec. 21 inside Charles Koch Arena.

Morgan Anderson

Freshman Grant Sherfield attacks the basket while VCU defends during the game on Saturday, Dec. 21 inside Charles Koch Arena.

Morgan Anderson

Morgan Anderson

Freshman Grant Sherfield attacks the basket while VCU defends during the game on Saturday, Dec. 21 inside Charles Koch Arena.

With 37 seconds left in the game, Gregg Marshall motioned for his players to get in the corners. He was making room for his freshman point guard Grant Sherfield to work.

The Shockers were in a slump. Shots weren’t falling and Virginia Commonwealth was clawing its way back into the game. After being down by as much as 16 points, the Rams had cut the lead down to 10.

Sherfield was calm. He dribbled to the left side of the court, crossed over, and drove into an open lane. With a defender converging, the freshman went up and under to the right side of the hoop, banking in the layup. The made basket pushed the Shockers’ lead back to 12 – sealing the win against a nationally-recognized opponent.

After the game, Sherfield was asked to comment on his performance.

“I just try to stay poised,” he said. “You want to take each possession like it’s your last.”

A season ago, Marshall didn’t have a point guard with quality minutes under their belt. Samajae Haynes-Jones came into the year averaging just 11 minutes per game from his junior year, Ricky Torres was a junior college transfer, and then there was then-freshman Jamarius Burton.

Last season’s Rams bullied the inexperienced Shockers on the way to a 70-54 victory. Torres started at point and had no made shots and seven turnovers. Burton proved to be the up-and-coming guard, piling in 12 points, eight rebounds, and three assists.

But this year, Marshall didn’t have to worry about the lack of experience. Even though Burton was the lone returner, Sherfield is not one to shy away from the limelight.

Saturday’s game was his second-straight game coming off of the bench for a dominating second-half performance. After the game against Oklahoma on Dec. 14, Sherfield said his past playing experience has prepared him to keep his poise in high-pressure situations.

“At Sunrise (Christian Academy), we traveled around the country and played against the best teams everyday,” Sherfield said after the win against the Sooners. “We played in front of 13,000 fans before, so like, coming here to this stage is not that big of a deal. When you play in front of big crowds, it really doesn’t phase you anymore.”

Marshall had nothing but praise for Sherfield after Saturday’s game.

“He’s (Sherfield) a really good [ball] handler, he’s a good athlete, he’s a great free throw shooter, so you want him in there against the pressure,” Marshall said. “He’s deceptive with his moves. He already knows, but he’s getting better at breaking the pressure. He made several beautiful decisions on the fly that kind of broke the game open late in the second half.”

The freshman finished with 14 points — nine of which came in that second half — as well as two rebounds and two assists.

Burton also had a strong performance against VCU, finishing with 10 points, eight rebounds, and five assists.

Morgan Anderson
Wichita State’s Jamarius Burton drives to the basket during the game against the VCU Rams on Saturday.

But what about that third point guard? Well, this year, there are actually two others. Freshmen Tyson Etienne (11.0 ppg) and Noah Fernandes are fitting right into the system.

Etienne, who is a natural two-guard, has spent time at the point and is no stranger to the pressure that’s been thrown at him early on either — after spending the entire summer working out with NBA All-Stars.

Fernandes, even after suffering a lower leg injury early in the year, is finding his role as well — and it showed on Saturday.

“It was unbelievable having our own style, Play Angry as you would put it,” Marshall said on Saturday.

Marshall was enthusiastic about his young players stepping up against VCU.

“From an experience standpoint, we were stepping up a weight class or two,” he said. “You couldn’t tell it. Our guys were so focused and locked in. I thought Tyson Etienne, I mention Noah Fernandes, and I thought Grant Shefield were tremendous today. Those freshman are really playing well.”

Etienne on the afternoon was one of four Shockers in double figures with 10 points. The sharpshooter knocked down two three-pointers, dished out three assists, and grabbed a single rebound. In just six minutes, Fernandes hit his lone shot, a fadeaway jumper in the first half. On the next possession, he forced a jump ball after sacrificing his body to jump into the pile of players.

Morgan Anderson
Freshman Noah Fernandes calls for the fans to cheer louder during the game against VCU on Saturday, Dec. 21 inside Charles Koch Arena.

The improved guard play has the Shockers poised to slip into the AP Poll for the first time since the end of the 2o17-2018 season, after three-straight wins against powerful opponents – Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, and VCU. Marshall speaks highly of his team’s mental toughness.

“Developing the mental toughness to win a game like this — last year, the pressure, we melted,” Marshall said. “We shied away from the moment. The effort and toughness plays, everyone can do it. We’ve learned how to compete at a really high level.”

The AP Poll releases on Monday. Up next, WSU will square off with Abilene Christian on Dec. 29 inside Chalres Koch Arena. Tip is scheduled for 2 p.m.