Crowning #69, the Wichita State Shockers…Posted by rtmsf on April 1st, 2011
Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor. He was at Thursday night’s NIT Championship and filed the following report.
Graham Hatch was beaming in the postgame press conference. Could you blame him? The senior from Mesa, Arizona, had just played a major part in helping his team win the NIT on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, plus he was wrapping up his collegiate career with a win. Not many players can say that. Hatch connected on all four of his shots against Alabama, including back-to-back threes that sealed the game for the Shockers en route to their 66-57 win in front of 4,873 fans at the Garden. For his efforts, Hatch was named the NIT’s most outstanding player. He could barely believe it after the game.
“This is what it’s all about,” Hatch said. “It’s just magical. It’s unbelievable.” For all those who say the NIT is a meaningless tournament, the Wichita State players and coaches were having none of that tonight. Coach Gregg Marshall talked about how special this group of kids, now the single-season record holders for wins in school history (29), is to him but he singled out Hatch and junior center Garrett Stutz. Marshall spoke glowingly about them, saying you won’t find better human beings than these two players. “That’s a fact.”
The first half was well played by both teams but the Shockers (29-8) seized control late, using an 11-1 run over a three minute span in the latter stages of the game to put it away and win their first NIT title. The Crimson Tide had pulled to within four with under six minutes to play but Aaron Ellis made an important jumper with 4:43 to go and then Hatch struck the first of his two blows 26 seconds later. JaMychal Green led the Crimson Tide (25-12) with 10 first half points but made only one field goal after intermission. Green picked up his fourth foul with 10:59 remaining and was forced to sit on the bench until it was too late. Alabama actually shaved one point off the Wichita State lead in the first five minutes after Green’s fourth foul but couldn’t sustain that momentum long enough for their star player to have an impact down the stretch. Tony Mitchell led Alabama with 13 points and 12 rebounds but also turned the ball over five times in the loss.
The Crimson Tide shot 2-14 from three point land and didn’t dominate the paint like they did against Colorado on Tuesday. Alabama held a 28-20 advantage in points inside but couldn’t overcome the Shockers’ depth and toughness, or capitalize on 19 Wichita State turnovers. “Depth is certainly a factor,” said Marshall. J.T. Durley and Hatch scored 12 points to lead a Shockers team that saw ten players post at least two points. No Wichita State player saw more than 29 minutes of action and their legs were fresh as a result, holding Alabama to 25% shooting in the second half. The Shockers made five of six second half three point attempts and shot 50% from the floor for the game, displaying the kind of offense that allowed them to compete with the likes of San Diego State, Connecticut and VCU in the regular season. Said Marshall, “When the ball goes through the basket at that type of clip, we can play with anyone.”
Alabama coach Anthony Grant was disappointed with the loss but said the team improved this season and he grew as a coach as well. The Crimson Tide’s normally stout defense just couldn’t get a stop tonight and Wichita State assisted on 65.2% of their made field goals thanks to good ball movement according to Stutz. “Give them credit,” Grant said. “They made the plays they needed to make.” The future is indeed bright for Grant and Alabama. Promising freshman point guard Trevor Releford will be back and the Tide lose only three players of significance from this year’s team, assuming Green doesn’t turn professional. Grant will welcome in two four-star recruits (per Scout), Levi Randolph and Nick Jacobs. With a system focused on defensive intensity now in place, the pieces are there for Grant and Alabama to make a lot of noise in the SEC over the next couple of years.
The future is more in question for the Shockers. Marshall’s name has come up in speculation about jobs such as NC State and a postseason title will only enhance his credentials. Wichita State will lose three key players to graduation, including Hatch and Durley, but will still have a solid core returning. The Missouri Valley was down this year but the Shockers should still be a factor next season as well. Of course, a lot of that depends on the projected improvement of players in the rotation as well as Marshall’s status. For now though, Wichita State will enjoy their championship and revel with their passionate fans, many of whom made the trip to New York City. As for Hatch, possibly a future Navy SEAL according to Marshall, this season could not have ended any better after going through plenty of ups and downs throughout his career. He was clearly ecstatic but humble all the while. “I can die a happy man now,” he said. We can’t blame him.