Shockers fall to Cincinnati in heartbreaking fashion, NCAA Tournament hopes now in question


Khánh Nguyễn/ The Sunflower

Wichita State redshirt senior Alterique Gilbert goes for a layup at the end of the game against Cincinnati at Dickies Arena on Mar. 13.

For the second straight AAC Tournament, Wichita State fell to Cincinnati in the semifinals— this time coming in heartbreaking fashion. The loss puts WSU’s NCAA Tournament hopes in question as they wait to see their fate.

“It’s a heartbreaker,” sophomore Tyson Etienne said. “You never want the game to come down to the last possession but today that was the reality. Today it didn’t come out with us victorious. Stuff like that happens.”

Redshirt senior Alterique Gilbert missed a shot to win the game in the final seconds, and Cincinnati hung on to win 60-59. Cincinnati advanced to the championship game for the third straight tournament.

The shot would’ve advanced the Shockers to the championship for the first time since joining the AAC conference in 2017 but now WSU must wait to see their postseason fate.

“It was a three, we were hoping to get to the rim,” Head Coach Isaac Brown said. “(Morris) got the rebound and threw it to Dexter which took a little bit of time, we wanted to make sure we got the ball off the court. By the time we got the ball up the court, we couldn’t get to the rim because it was a short shot clock. It was a shot he normally makes but he didn’t make it tonight.”

Similar to the game against USF on Friday, the Shocker offense struggled down the stretch. In the win against the Bulls in the quarterfinals, WSU failed to convert a field goal in the final 5:08. Against the Bearcats, the Shockers only converted two field goals in the final 4:18, both coming from Gilbert. 

Brown credited Cincinnati’s defense but also felt that WSU beat themselves. 

“I thought they played good defense but it was more us,” Brown said. “The last three minutes of the game, I thought we had three or more guys that had tough layups that they didn’t make them. I give them a lot of credit, they were there, they walled up, they jumped up in the air without fouling. We just didn’t make the little shots at the rim tonight.”

Even with the heartbreaking loss on Saturday night, Brown said that his message was still a positive one. With all the adversity that the team has faced this season, they remain hopeful for receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“I was absolutely positive tonight,” Brown said. “When I walked into the locker room, the first thing I said was keep your head up. You guys have had a great season, you guys have battled. Nobody expected you to win the conference championship in the American. I’ve got a good feeling that we’ll still be in the NCAA Tournament. We’ve done the work we needed to do.” 

The Shockers now must wait until Selection Sunday to see if they will return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018. 

Etienne said that WSU remains confident in their resume but it is ultimately up to the selection committee.

“You’ve just gotta have faith, have to trust,” Etienne said. “It’s out of our hands, we built our resume and the committee is going to make their decision and whatever decision they make is the decision they make. I believe we have earned a spot in the tournament but we don’t make that final decision. I trust that the good energy will come back to us.”

Throughout this season, the Shockers have faced their fair share of adversity, including their head coach resigning eight days before the season along with COVID-19 issues they faced. 

Junior Morris Udeze said the team has a lot to be proud even with their postseason hopes in doubt.

“They picked us seventh and we finished first,” Udeze said. “We all came together as one to just win a lot of games that people thought we could not win. I feel like we did a great job this year and I’m proud of those guys in the locker room. We’re obviously sad right now but we’re going to pray we get into the tournament.”

Selection Sunday is slated to start at 5 p.m. on CBS as WSU waits to see if they receive an at-large bid to the tournament. WSU could be selected as an alternate team to the tournament as well if a team has to opt out due to COVID-19.