A tale of two teams

For Shocker men, a year of ups and downs

Written by Joe Stumpe | Photography by Chad Phillips and Wichita State University

Before the season, Wichita State basketball coach Gregg Marshall urged fans to take a deep breath: His young and inexperienced squad was going to require patience.

Now he might urge fans to cross their fingers.

As the Shockers head into March, no one knows which team will show up. Will it be the team that won four straight games during the middle stretch of American Athletic Conference play, or the team that lost three games by double digits just before that?

Will it be the team that has struggled to score and committed way too many fouls at times? Or the one that has played flashes of what Marshall calls “Shocker basketball.”

One thing’s for sure: With a record that’s hovered around .500 most of the season, WSU won’t be getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, nor necessarily even an invitation to the second-tier postseason tourney. The Shockers need to finish strong, upsetting some teams and expectations in the process.

“Our goal — what we’re shooting for — is to be playing our best basketball in March,” Marshall said last month, with six regular-season games remaining. “We’ll have to see if we’ve been able to accomplish that.”

In an up-and-down year, one thing that Marshall has found some consistency in is the play of his two senior starters, Markis McDuffie and Samajae Haynes-Jones.

“Both of them have remained positive and become leaders throughout this season,” Marshall said. “They’ve also elevated their game. This is the best year either one of them has ever had on the college level, so the timing is good.”

McDuffie, the rail-thin 6-foot-8 forward from New Jersey, leads the team in points, steals and three-point shooting, while Haynes-Jones, the 6-foot guard from Wichita East High, is second in scoring and first in assists and minutes played.

Haynes-Jones thrilled local fans with his acrobatic, last-second winning shot against Southern Methodist, then hit his first seven shots against East Carolina, which left Marshall comparing him to NBA legend Nate “Tiny” Archibald.

“When he’s good, he’s been really good,” Marshall said. “There have been some games where he struggled, too. That’s hurt us.”

McDuffie has played himself back into consideration as an NBA prospect — something that was expected of him when he arrived at WSU, but which seemed unlikely during his injury-marred junior year.

“Markis has had an awesome senior year,” Marshall said. “When he’s not very good, we don’t have much of a chance to win, but when he is really good we can play with anyone.

“I’ve reached out to a couple of NBA buddies and said, ‘Hey, he’s worth a look, man. You gotta get in here. I can’t pick your team for you but he’s certainly having a fantastic year, shooting at a high clip and playing really, really hard.’ ”

McDuffie was the American’s player of the week twice, ranking as its second-leading scorer through late February at nearly 19 points a game.

Of course, it takes more than two players to win, especially since the Shockers moved up to the AAC, where Houston, Cincinnati, UCF and Temple looked like the teams to beat through most of the season.

One pleasant development has been the play of WSU’s big men, a sort of post-play by committee featuring Jaime Echenique, the 6-foot-11 junior college transfer from Colombia; Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler, a 6-foot-9 freshman from Nebraska; and Asbjorn Midtgaard, the 7-footer from Denmark who Marshall has called the most imposing physical specimen he’s ever coached.

“We’ve almost got 27-and-a-half feet of center,” Marshall said, exaggerating just a bit.

“I think when you break it down position-wise, the [forwards and centers] have been a strength for us this year. It’s been more the guards that have struggled with their youth and experience.”

And even those young guards have played well at times, as when Dexter Dennis notched his career double-double in a road loss to Cincinnati, and fellow freshman Jamarius Burton logged a string of productive games at the point.

“What I like to see from one of our teams is just playing harder and smarter than the opposition,” Marshall said. “Winning all the hustle stats, being first on the floor for a loose ball, taking a charge, getting deflections, flying around on defense, sprinting up and down the court both ways.”

“That’s kind of what we’ve done in spurts,” he said. “It’s not like it has been in the past but it’s getting better.”

Seniors strategize

Samajae Haynes-Jones

Senior year highlight:
“The Baylor game, my first double-double. The SMU game [where Haynes-Jones hit a last-second game winner]. It was a totally fine game and we came out with the win.”

Biggest challenge:
“Just being mentally focused. I let a lot of things get to me last year. I felt like this year I stepped up in a lot of ways as being able to play and compete at a high level.”

What the Shockers need to do in March:
“Do the things that don’t really have to be [taught]. Just hustle plays, effort, all the little things. I feel like those things will take us far if we want to go far.”

Markis McDuffie

Senior year highlight:
“I thought the second game of the year, when we played Providence: I scored like 30 points. After the first game — I had a bad game — I didn’t know how the season was going to go. But I just always believed in myself.”

Biggest challenge:
After losses to USF and Connecticut, “I went back to my ways and we started going on a four-game winning streak.”

What the Shockers need to do in March:
“We just have to play hard for 40 minutes. It’s our job to show these guys we’re going to be a team that’s tough to beat.”

 

Freshmen on the floor

Following strong second month, Shocker women aim to keep momentum

Written by Joe Stump | Photography by Wichita State University

After losing their first five American Athletic Conference games this year, the women’s basketball team at Wichita State might have given up.

But the lady Shockers — even younger than their male counterparts at WSU — responded with a strong second month of play. While hopes of postseason play seem dim, that improvement at least bodes well for next year.

“I think we’ve had some moments where we’ve played some really good ball and some where we’ve not played very good,” coach Keitha Adams said. “That’s characteristic of what you have when you’re such a young team.”

Indeed, Carla Bremaud, a freshman guard from France via Wichita’s Life Prep Academy, was leading the Shockers in scoring through late February, with nearly 10 points a game.

“Carla’s a good shooter,” Adams said. “She’s hit some big shots for us.”

Bremaud wasn’t the only productive freshman. Seraphine Bastin established herself at point guard, guard Jaida Hampton had some good games and forward Trajata Colbert was starting to play well as the season progressed.

“We’ll have three freshman on the floor at a time,” Adams said. “There’s not a moment when we don’t have a freshman on the floor.”

Lending experience has been senior center Sabrina Lozada-Cabbage, with nearly 9 points and 6 boards a game.

“She’s a gritty young lady,” Adams said. “When she’s played well, we’ve played well. She’s a fun kid to coach and I think the fans have enjoyed her four years here.”

Playing in the same conference as Connecticut — probably the greatest women’s hoops program of all time — it would take a near miracle for WSU to advance into the NCAA tourney this year. But Adams was hopeful that her team would close out the year and AAC tourney “playing some really good ball.”

“You want to be playing your best. Hopefully we’ll do that.”

 
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