For five consecutive days before Thursday’s game, every Wichita State player who heard from the coaching staff was focused on Houston’s rebound.
About how Houston was the best offensive rebounding team in the country. As the numbers suggest, Houston was supposed to dominate a vulnerable WSU men’s basketball team in a relaxing fight. About how the 6th place Cougars were just seen to be tougher than the Shockers at the moment.
In the pre-game scouting report, WSU interim coach Isaac Brown told players that there are three keys to the game: “rebound, rebound and rebound”.
It was a psychological ploy by Brown and his coaches for the highest-stakes game of the season. They wanted to make the WSU players so sick and tired to hear that Houston is the tougher team that they would be even more motivated to change that perception.
Think of the tactic as a success: The WSU bounced back 35:33 against Houston and was only the fourth team in the last two seasons to have a higher percentage of offensive rebounds (45.5% to 42.9%) than Houston in the historic 68 of the Shockers scored -63 victory at Koch Arena to take first place in the American Athletic Conference.
On Thursday the WSU were 6-0 at home against teams in 6th place or better since they had defeated Louisville No. 2 (84: 78) on February 25, 1967. The WSU’s last win against a top 10 team was a 76-72 triumph at No. 5 Cincinnati on February 18, 2018, while its last win over a top 10 team in the Koch Arena came on February 28, 2015, when the Shockers led No. 10 Northern Iowa 74-60.
“They’re a great team and known for their toughness, but that’s what we’re doing here,” said WSU student Tyson Etienne of Houston. “It was great to play against a top 10 team on the pitch, but we’re good here in Wichita, Kansas too.”
It was an impressive result in the game within the game, not because the WSU Houston successfully kept off the offensive – the Cougars finished the offensive with 15 offensive rebounds and the WSU 21-15 on second chance points – but because they did The shockers took 15 own offensive rebounds with two smaller chances.
Houston coach Kelvin Sampson later said, “They did to us what we normally do to other teams.”
“We’ve been a good rebounding team here for a long time,” said Sampson. “I just thought the team was tougher on the boards than us. I don’t know how many times I’ve said that in seven years, especially the last six years. Very rare. This team was tougher than us on the boards and that’s certainly disappointing. “
Brown has been on the sidelines in all eight clashes with Houston since the WSU joined the Americans four years ago. He’s seen firsthand how relentless and devastating Houston can smash the glass, a major reason the Cougars won the series six straight ahead of Thursday’s game.
The coach knew that if his players lost a skid, they would have to dig deeper than they would all season to find a different level of energy, focus and toughness. It can be as mental as it is physical, which is why Brown beamed with pride when it was revealed that his team had actually won the relaxing fight.
“It’s so exhausting that I’m going to give them the day (Friday) off,” Brown said. “When you play against Houston, they keep coming at you, coming at you, coming at you, punching you, punching you, punching you. It costs you a lot. “
This consistent pressure that Houston puts on the defense usually overwhelms the opponents, which is why what the WSU was able to achieve on Thursday is all the more impressive.
Houston beat up WSU in the first 29 minutes of the game and tracked down more than half of its own mistakes. But when they had to, the Shockers secured eight out of ten possible defensive rebounds and limited Houston to just two offensive rebounds in the final eleven minutes.
For a team that ranked in the bottom 20 nationwide in defensive rebound against the best offensive rebounding team in the country, it was a remarkable feat on the clutch.
“I’m just so excited about it,” Brown said. “You mastered the challenge. Every time the ball is in the air, you have to find someone to touch. I thought our guys did a great job getting in touch. “
After succumbing to bad habits in the first half – like watching the balls when the shots go up and the box-outs didn’t finish – when the defensive got back on its feet in the first half, WSU was suspended and missed rarely used boxing in the last 11 minutes of the game.
The WSU lost an excruciating amount of 50-50 balls in the first half. But when the game was at stake in the second half, the Shockers seemed to be winning every loose ball they needed.
“You definitely have to come to play and put on your hard hat to beat Houston,” said Alterique Gilbert, senior WSU.
Senior Trey Wade, below average than usual as a 6-foot-6 striker against Houston’s frontline, produced a fairly important 50-50 ball, with WSU holding onto a 58-53 lead in the final four minutes .
Wade turned defensively to cut off a basket in the lane and force a kick-out pass. When the shot went up he turned and punched Houston’s 6-8 Reggie Chaney as best he could. As the ball made its way, they both went to the rebound and flipped the ball up. This is the kind of rebound that the WSU failed to create in the first half. But this time the Shockers kept the ball alive and Wade eventually tore it out of the air on his second try.
When they asked the players what the difference was, they said it was easy: at some point you had to draw a line in the sand.
“If you lose to her six times in a row, you really don’t want anyone beating you up all the time,” said Dennis. “You have to adjust their intensity, if not overtake them. If you don’t, you will be ashamed. That’s something they did and that’s their culture, but it’s also part of our culture that’s been built here. ‘Play Angry’ was that attitude that made this program. “
Just as important as the exit of the WSU with 80% on the defensive in the last 11 minutes, the Shockers scored five of eleven possible offensive rebounds in the same period. Two of these offensive rebounds resulted in second chance points, which helped the WSU to extend their lead in crucial situations.
It was the second highest offensive rebound percentage (45.5%) that the Shockers have had this season.
“I think that shows that we can do it,” said Dennis. “We really didn’t throw back many games. It looked like we almost didn’t try. Now that we’ve done it, the point is to do it every game. It doesn’t matter who we play against, we just have to restart every game. “
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