‘Let’s make history:’ Shockers complete upset of No. 6 Houston


Khánh Nguyễn/ The Sunflower

Wichita State sophomore Tyson Etienne celebrates after hitting a 3-pointer during the game against Houston at Charles Koch Arena on Feb. 18.

For the first time since 1967, Wichita State defeated a top-six team in the country at home on Thursday night as they beat No. 6 Houston, 68-63 inside Charles Koch Arena. The victory was also crucial in keeping WSU’s hopes for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament alive. 

WSU struggled out the gates, finding themselves down by as many 12 points with 5:37 left to play in the first. The Shockers closed the half 17-4 run to cut the deficit to one point headed at halftime. 

“We weren’t really playing well,” junior Dexter Dennis said. “And they were so they were capitalizing on things and we weren’t really being smart I’d say. But that wasn’t our best basketball. We knew eventually, we were going to start playing the way we normally play.”

In the second half, the Shockers continued that momentum and started out with an 11-0 run to build a 10-point lead. The Cougars found a way to claw back and in the final minute, junior Quentin Grimes banked in a three-pointer cutting the deficit down to one point. 

On the ensuing possession, Tyson Etienne missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw and the Cougars had the opportunity to regain the lead in the closing seconds. But Dexter Dennis intercepted a DeJon Jarreau pass intended for Grimes and absorbed a flagrant-two foul from Justin Gorham. 

Dennis said that he was watching Grimes the whole time and just took off once he saw the ball leave Jarreau’s hands. 

“I knew he was calling for, I saw his hands. He was calling for it. And (Jarreau) was like dribbling it and he was looking at him, but he didn’t see me. So, once it released his hands, I just ran to the ball.”

The Shockers were able to hit their critical free throws down the stretch and finished off the five-point victory. 

Dennis said that matching the Cougars’ intensity was a key reason WSU pulled off the upset. 

“You have to match their intensity, if not overtaking because if you don’t, you’re just gonna get embarrassed. And that’s something they’ve been doing. That’s their culture. That’s what they’ve been doing. They play extremely, extremely hard, every time every possession.”

Entering Thursday’s game, Houston was the best offensive rebounding team in the country grabbing more than 41% of its own misses and an average of 15.2 offensive rebounds per game. Houston was one of six teams out rebounding their opponents by double digits prior to Thursday night.

In the victory, the Shockers outrebounded the Cougars, 35-33, while also matching Houston’s 15 offensive rebounds.

“Every time the ball is up in the air, you have to find someone to touch, and I thought those guys did a great job of going to make contact,” Interim Head Coach Isaac Brown said. “Even if we didn’t get the rebound, the ref had to call the foul. And once that happened, it equaled everything out and we were able to rebound with those guys.”

Brown said that Houston’s physicality can play a toll on teams, which was the main reason WSU went to its bench early on.

“When you play Houston, they just keep coming at you, coming at you, coming at you,” Brown said. “Hitting you, hitting you, hitting you. So, it takes a lot out of you. It’s hard to score because on offense, you know when you’re trying to score, you just had to box those guys out there constantly going to the glass, they pushed it in transition, they got a big, physical basketball team.”

This season WSU has faced adversity throughout, including COVID-19 issues and Gregg Marshall’s resignation. Mixed in with a 1-2 start, the Shockers now sit on the cusp of a return to the NCAA Tournament. 

“Those first two games, we played with eight players,” Brown said. “So, we didn’t make any excuses in the end. Those guys kept battling. They kept getting better. They kept believing, and they just trusted us. We trust them and they trust our staff.”

With the win, the Shockers sit atop of the American Athletic Conference standings and snap a six-game losing streak against Houston. As one of the six returners from last year’s team, sophomore Tyson Etienne said he’s just grateful to be a part of this group. 

“I was saying it from the beginning of the game, Let’s make history,” he said. “At halftime, I was saying let’s make history and the guys followed and we did just that. It’s an amazing feeling to do that.”

Next up, the Shockers will look to extend its winning streak to six games against South Methodist inside Charles Koch Arena on Feb. 25. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN or ESPN2.