Dennis’ defensive effort continues, despite offensive struggles


Mia Hennen/ The Sunflower

On Jan. 1 in Koch Arena, junior Dexter Dennis dribbles down the court.

From the moment Dexter Dennis stepped on Wichita State’s campus, he knew that defense would get him playing time. Now in his fourth year with the Shockers, that’s the main reason Dennis is on the court when it matters the most. 

Dennis is averaging a career-low 8.4 points per game but his defense is at an all-time high. During Saturday’s win against SMU, Dennis limited SMU’s Kendric Davis to a season-low eight points on 1-7 shooting. 

His coaches and teammates said they know how important Dennis’  defense is to winning games and his work hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“Just to hold a guy like Kendric Davis to eight points is a tremendous job,” head coach Isaac Brown said. “I think Dexter is definitely the AAC Defensive Player of the Year.”

Dennis has put countless hours in the gym to break out of his worst shooting slump of his career. The Baker, Louisiana native is shooting 27.1% on three-pointers — his worst mark in his college career. 

When it comes to his offensive struggles, Dennis has a quick memory. He’s been able to “control the controllables” and compartmentalize his offensive performance with his defensive energy and effort.

“Effort, energy and enthusiasm,” Dennis said after last Tuesday’s win against Tulsa. “That’s something you can always control, whether you’re having a good day or not. I try to bring that every day.”

After dunking on PVAMU, junior Dexter Dennis yells in celebration along with Shocker fans in the stadium. (Mia Hennen/ The Sunflower)

Dennis’ career has been marked by those three principles — which has transformed him into one the top Shocker defenders in recent years. WSU still has more work to do after their slow start in conference play, but the team views this recent two-game winning streak as progress.

Dennis realizes how valuable his defense is to the team and how he still has more to give.

“Sometimes (bad shooting) might affect me, but I can’t show it because I have a big role on defense on this team,” Dennis said. “I can’t have bad days where I want to lose hope and throw in the towel because it would be real detrimental to the team. It’s a big responsibility, but at the end of the day, it is what it is. I gotta do more, I still gotta do more.”

No player has questioned his value in crunch time because of what Dennis brings on the defensive end. Freshman Ricky Council IV said he’s never seen his defensive effort be impacted by his offensive performance.

“I can’t recall a game in the two years I’ve been here where he’s slacked off on defense,” Council said. “He’s usually guarding the best player and shutting them down every night.”

Part of what makes Dennis successful on the defensive end is his unique size and athleticism. Early on in his Shocker career, Dennis was known for his highlight reel dunks but he’s now utilizing that leaping ability to block shots at a high rate. He currently has a 3.9% block rate and has 20 blocks this season. 

Sophomore Tyson Etienne said he likes to go against Dennis in practice because of how tough he is to score on.

“He’s an athletic, taller guard. He can move his feet,” Etienne said. “If you beat him with a counter move, he’s athletic enough to beat your second move. That’s really hard to score against. He just wants to play defense, he really wants to play hard.”

The Shockers are hoping to continue their winning ways on Tuesday as they take on Central Florida. A win against the Knights would move them into eight place in the AAC, as they continue their climb up the standings.

Dennis will be tasked with defending UCF’s Darin Green. In a matchup last month, Dennis limited Green to nine points on 4-12 shooting.

“The month of February is always the month you need to get hot in because it’s going into the conference tournament, it’s the latter part of your season, you should be cleaning up all your mistakes and the guys are excited right now,” Brown said. “They’re playing with a lot of confidence, and we’ve got to be able to take that on the road in order to be successful.”

Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. in Orlando. The game will also be broadcast on ESPNU.