Asbjørn Midtgaard’s late-season push helping Shockers down the stretch

Wichita+State+junior+Asbj%C3%B8rn+Midtgaard+celebrates+after+Dexter+Dennis%27+alley-oop+dunk+in+the+first+half+of+the+game+against+Tulane+on+Feb.+16+inside+Charles+Koch+Arena.

Marshall Sunner

Wichita State junior Asbjørn Midtgaard celebrates after Dexter Dennis' alley-oop dunk in the first half of the game against Tulane on Feb. 16 inside Charles Koch Arena.

With 8:12 remaining in the first half of Sunday’s game against Tulane, junior center Asbjørn Midtgaard swatted a shot, initiating a fast break. Freshman guard Grant Sherfield secured the rebound and bolted down the floor, as did sophomore Dexter Dennis. At the end of the break, Sherfield lobbed a pass to Dennis, who slammed it with authority.

Charles Koch Arena was rocking. Midtgaard ran back down the floor with his arms spread wide, mimicking an airplane. All Head Coach Gregg Marshall could do was point to his big man, clap in approval, and smile.

“He had a great play the other night to ignite a fast break,” Marshall said in his Tuesday press conference. “He got over and blocked a shot. Asbjorn is obviously someone that, depending on the matchup, really gives us a big body in there. He’s been a pretty good rebounder when he tries to use both hands.”

That’s just one play that has stood out as of late for Midtgaard, who like last year, has stepped up his game in the second half of the season. Last year, Midtgaard was vital to the Shockers’ deep NIT run. And this year, especially during the last nine games, WSU has been much improved with the Dane on the floor.

In that stretch, Midtgaard has the second-highest plus-minus rating on the team (plus-26), trailing only senior center Jaime Echenique (plus-31). Even though his statistics don’t jump off of the page — he’s averaging 1.6 points and 2.0 rebounds — Midtgaard has reenergized the Shockers and helped them dig their way out of a rut.

But Marshall recognizes that the junior still has plenty of room to improve. On Tuesday, Marshall said he wants to see Midtgaard be more aggressive when rebounding the basketball.

“The biggest thing for him is he likes to play with one hand,” Marshall said. “He likes to hold the other guy he’s posting and post with one hand. Unfortunately, he can’t catch it with one hand, so then he’s got to get that other hand up.

“I don’t know why he doesn’t trust his big core, if you will, to post with as opposed to having to hold the guy with his hand, and he rebounds a lot of time with one hand. So we’re trying to get him to do things with two hands.”

Marshall said he wants to see Midtgaard play like he’s starving.

“The analogy I used the other day with him was, imagine you’re really hungry and you haven’t eaten in three or four days. Would you try to eat with one hand or two?” Marshall said. “Think about it. I’m sure he’d go with two hands.”

Midtgaard and the Shockers will look to continue their recent success on Thursday against South Florida. Tip is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Charles Koch Arena.