Late spurt leads No. 8 Wichita State past Connecticut
HARTFORD, Conn. — A young Connecticut team did its best to spoil No. 8 Wichita State’s first game in the American Athletic Conference on Saturday.
But when it came down to the closing minutes, the experienced Shockers possessed just a bit too much savvy.
“I think we have just a really good resolve as a team,” Wichita State guard Landry Shamet said after the Shockers finished the game on a 23-13 run to escape with a 72-62 win before a sellout crowd at the XL Center.
“It’s not always (a case that) something needs to be said to get guys going,” Shamet said. “When adversity hits, we all kind of respond the same way. We stick together and just try to make good plays to make up for it.”
After 72 years in the Missouri Valley Conference, the Shockers came east for their AAC debut, dealt with charter flight delays Friday night and had to turn aside a determined effort by the Huskies, who came in as 10-point underdogs.
Shaquille Morris hit his only four baskets of the game and Shamet, 5 of 6 from 3-point range, fired home a pair of treys as Wichita State finished the game, which was tied at 49 with 9:24 left, on that 23-13 run. The Shockers (11-2) built their lead to as many as 11 points.
“We played a team that’s played a lot of big-time games together and they showed their execution down the last five minutes where we couldn’t get any stops,” said UConn coach Kevin Ollie.
Shamet, who didn’t make a 2-pointer, trying only three, led the Shockers with 16 points and added six assists, including a late alley-oop for a Morris slam. Rashard Kelly and Conner Frankamp each scored 11. Kelly had a game-high 12 rebounds and Morris finished with nine points and five rebounds. Sophomore guard Austin Reaves also had 11 for Wichita, going 3 of 4 on treys.
“After getting here with mechanical problems real late we’re just glad to get a win against a storied program,” said Wichita coach Gregg Marshall. “I thought our guys made the plays down the stretch that they (needed to make).”
The Shockers, facing a tough zone defense through much of the game, were 12 of 25 from 3-point range, allowing them to overcome 4-for-12 shooting from the foul line. UConn was just 3 of 16 from behind the arc.
More than the history of the first win in the new league, Marshall talked about UConn and its history.
“Honestly, it’s great. The history books will say that (about the first win) but it didn’t have any bearing on us — we’re just trying to win the next game,” said Marshall, “and obviously we have a ton of respect for Kevin and his program. I mean we’ve been to a couple Final Fours in 60 years and they’ve won it four times in the last 18 or 19 years.
“It’s a big deal. They’re a storied program and he’s already won a national championship here and who knows, he might win another one, but we got this one today and that’s all we’re worried about.”
Terry Larrier and Jalen Adams led the Huskies (7-6) with 18 points apiece and Christian Vital had 17. Adams had six assists.
The Shockers, whose first AAC points were registered by Kelly, jumped to a 7-2 lead in a rock fight of a first half. But the Huskies ran off 10 straight points, keyed by back-to-back 3s by Vital and Eric Cobb.
Wichita came right back with a 9-2 spurt and didn’t trail again in the half. UConn made just one basket over the final 7:45 before halftime.
But the Huskies, down four at the break, grabbed the lead with 13:12 remaining. A 7-0 run by the visitors was promptly answered by six straight by the Huskies.
Marshall felt for Ollie trying to get it done with a roster full of rookies (and lost Alterique Gilbert to shoulder surgery for the second straight season). The senior-loaded Shockers will have to go young next year.
Asked how close the Huskies, who had to go to overtime to beat Columbia and Monmouth, are to getting over the hump, Marshall said, “They were close today. It wasn’t hardly a 10-point game there all the way through.
“I’ll be talking to Kevin and I’ll say, ‘How do you do it, man,’” said Marshall. “Those kids are talented but it takes time.”
NOTES: Local media was trying to remember the last time UConn entered a home game as double-digit underdog, a guess being it was against Kansas in 1997 after the Huskies had two players, Kirk King and Ricky Moore, suspended. Moore is a current UConn assistant. ... Wichita State came in leading its new league in scoring (85.8), free-throw percentage (.760), field goal percentage (.488), rebound margin (plus-11.5) and defensive rebound percentage (.775). ... The Shockers are 44-6 in true road games since the start of the 2013-14 season. ... UConn recorded its first sellout (at either of its locations) since Feb. 18, 2016. ... Wichita State opens a two-game homestand against Houston on Thursday night, while UConn is at Tulsa on Wednesday. ... Former UConn coach Jim Calhoun was courtside.