The Kansas Jayhawks have long feared playing in-state Wichita St. in basketball. Sunday’s game in the round of 32 was a good reason why. Wichita St., playing angry, outmatched a listless Kansas team to advance to the Sweet 16. Coach Gregg Marshall, and players Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton, and Evan Wessel had this to say after the Shockers 78-65 win over the Jayhawks:
THE MODERATOR: Victorious Wichita State Shockers are here, Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton, Evan Wessel represent the student-athletes. Gregg Marshall, the head coach, is in the middle. We will ask him for a statement on the game and then we’ll go to questions for all four gentlemen from Wichita State. Gregg?
COACH MARSHALL: Just a great day to be a part of Shocker nation and to lead these young men into battle. I thought they played a beautiful basketball game. We calmed down about midway through the first half and stopped taking bad shots and started to execute some offense. Both teams were in foul trouble in the first half, but then once we did that, we got the lead and continued to play with the lead throughout the second half, made the right decisions in transition, hit enough free-throws and got enough stops to make it a wonderful victory.
Q. Evan, is it fair to call this the best game of your career so far? What allowed you to achieve the balance that you did in all areas, and Coach, can you just encapsulate Evan’s performance?
EVAN WESSEL: Yeah, I’d say it’s definitely up there. I just got to give credit to the my teammates; they were able to attack, find me, give me shots. And this was an all-around team effort, offensively and defensively.
COACH MARSHALL: First of all, Evan is nothing but a tremendous winner in ever way, shape and form. Great student, great person, leader on campus and a fantastic basketball player. Giving up 3, 4 inches to Perry Ellis most of the day, his high school teammate, and fought him, evenly I thought, and then stepped out and made four three-pointers and took one that was probably a little bit ill-advised, but he was in such a good rhythm, that one with about 25 seconds on the shot clock and 3 minutes to go in the game, heck, if he makes that, he’s 5 for 6, so we will take 67% from him. That’s what our offense has been lacking at times this year, just one more guy that can step out and make the shots, and all three of these guys stepped up and made ’em today.
Q. The opportunity to coach veteran players, guys that have been in your system for a while, I thought that was a huge difference today. How much of an advantage is that?
COACH MARSHALL: It’s a huge advantage. These guys know me; I know them, we kinda think alike at times. They have a wonderful understanding of our system and what we’re trying to achieve out on the court, on both ends. But I thought we got some good contributions from our young guys today, I thought Zach Brown was good, I thought Bush Wamukota gave us some quality minutes today, defensively especially, around the rim. But for us able to have guys that have been in our program two, three, four years is a huge advantage.
Q. Tekele, with 4:39 left you hit a 2-pointer and there was a time-out called and Fred gathered everyone at half-court for his own little huddle. What did Fred say?
TEKELE COTTON: Fred really was just trying to make us stay poised, tell us to just stay level headed and just stay in the game, keep the pressure on; and we just went back into our huddle and just continued with our game plan. He didn’t say too much; he just kept us poisoned, like a leader.
Q. Ron and Tekele, how much did you guys go to school on West Virginia’s games against Kansas and how they were able to be physical and kind push ’em out of what they wanted to do? How much did that play into today?
RON BAKER: Credit Coach Forbes on the scout; he obviously watched games where KU was not victorious and Iowa State film, West Virginia film. We knew we could heat ’em up after free-throws and a couple of dead-ball possessions, like we do most teams. So I think we just got our pressure into the game, kind of slowed ’em up, and I think our bigs did obviously a really good job of hand-and-foot in the post. Like Coach said, Perry is a couple, 3, 4 inches taller than Evan, and we had the backside covered, us guards, and it was just a really good team defensive effort today.
Q. Tekele, how big a deal was it keeping them from getting the ball inside, and how were you guys able to execute that so well?
TEKELE COTTON: It was a pretty big deal, because like Ron just said, we gave up a few inches, and we just tried to push ’em out as far as we could, and Evan and all of our bigs, Darius, Bush, everybody pushed ’em out; and we helped out as much as we could on the inside, and we were successful at it.
Q. For all the players, it’s been a long time since Wichita State played Kansas. Fans have made a lot of that; media has made a lot of that. You sorta have been downplaying it. Now that it’s over, does it have special meaning?
RON BAKER: To me this is probably one of the biggest wins I’ve been involved with being a Shocker, just because we don’t get the opportunity to play KU, and we’re going to the Sweet 16. Both tremendous achievements. Really, really proud of what we have accomplished, and thankful that I’m a part of this wonderful group.
TEKELE COTTON: To me, I mean, I’m speechless. Like I heard Fred say, like in the locker room he said, like, he didn’t know what to feel, like this feeling was unreal, and he was right about that. And this is one of the best wins that I’ve had as well, and we’re just going to keep trying to advance, and that’s our goal. That win for Kansas and for Wichita in itself was a tremendous win, and I’m glad we got that win, so now we can move on.
EVAN WESSEL: It’s definitely one of the biggest wins I’ve been a part of, definitely hits home, being a Wichita kid, growing up a Wichita State fan. My family went to Wichita State, and it’s big for the community, and I’m just glad we got the win and ready to move on to the Sweet 16.
Q. Tekele, after you hit the kind of Blake-Griffin-style shot in the second half, did you think you surprised him with your athleticism, you’re 6-2, you’re going against 6-10 guys, 6-8 guys the whole game?
TEKELE COTTON: I think I probably surprised them a little bit. I looked at their faces, and they looked a little surprised. I didn’t really get it like I wanted to, but I think they were a little surprised.
Q. How much did you want it?
TEKELE COTTON: All the way! (Laughter.)
Q. Gregg, I guess the same question as Bob, this match-up was a long time in the making. What do you feel now that the team won this the way that it did, convincingly, and also, did you sense any more energy out of the team simply because of this match-up?
COACH MARSHALL: Honestly, I’ll stick to what I’ve been saying for the last couple of days. I’ve got a tremendous respect for their program, unbelievable coach, great athletes, but we’re pretty good, too, and the game was about the right to go to the Sweet 16. Anything other than that is just a side — sidelight. We wanted to go to Cleveland and play Notre Dame. So now we get that opportunity. And if it was Duke or North Carolina, it would have been the same. Tremendous respect for their programs, tremendous respect for Bill and what he’s achieved there, but it was just the next game in this tournament, and we wanted to continue to play; get a chance to go home now, rest, relax, and get ready for an unbelievable challenge come Thursday or Friday of next week. But Indiana and Kansas in one weekend is pretty special.
Q. Ron, they cut it to 63-55, crowd kind of got it going. You guys ran through the press and you got — you dribbled through and got Darius that layup and a foul shot, take us through that play and how much was that important to kind of stop their momentum.
RON BAKER: Like you said, obviously the “and one” with Darius. Obviously at that time of the game you can pull the ball out and run clock. But we’re a really aggressive team and we make smart decisions with the ball, and that’s what we did. Fred didn’t panic in the corner, he made a good pass to Evan, I believe it was, up the sideline, and I streaked down the middle. Just being the athlete and basketball player I am, just playing the game, I got it, 3-on-1, just playing basketball. It wasn’t a set play or anything like that; we were just playing ball, and I didn’t even know that was a score at the time, honestly. We were just being aggressive and playing within the game.
Q. Evan, you kind of at the end of the game turned and gestured toward the crowd, was that a “let loose” moment for you as far as your emotions go, and Ron and Tekele, is Evan more emotional than maybe he gets credit for sometimes?
EVAN WESSEL: I have to say it, maybe it was. I guess a lot of times I don’t show my emotions, pretty straightforward guy, but at that point I just wanted to give it to our fans, give it to my family out in the crowd, I had a bunch here, and just excited for the moment.
TEKELE COTTON: Like he said, he doesn’t really show his emotions a lot, and when I see him show a lot of emotions, that gets me hyped, so that was a good feeling to watch him get hyped, so it was a good feeling for me.
RON BAKER: I live with him, so do we really want to talk about this? (Laughter.) No, it was really good to see Evan let loose there, let the crowd know that this one was for the fans of Wichita State that made the trip here, especially our families, able to enjoy this win with us. It’s just really exciting, and I’m glad we got such an awesome fan base to share this win with.
Q. Gregg, if you could attract one-and-done players who hit the campus with one foot out the door already, would you go ahead and recruit ’em and try to get ’em or is this blueprint maybe just as good?
COACH MARSHALL: You know, Tom, it’s not something I have to worry about, because I haven’t had any one-and-done guys really interested in our program. Maybe it’s a two-way street. I’m not saying I would or I wouldn’t. It’s not something that I’ve had the opportunity to even explore. But I do know that four years ago we recruited these three guys in one recruiting class, and two of them had redshirted, that’s why they’re juniors. But I remember them coming in that summer, and we were able to practice like for two hours a week and then take a trip. We got 10 days to practice because we took a foreign trip down to Brazil. And we were down in Rio, playing games, going to the beaches, got to know each other, had a really good bond, coach-to-player, player-to-player, and I knew then that we had something special. We really had a great group of young players, and now they’ve developed and achieved so much that it’s been beautiful to watch.
Q. Gregg, now that you’ve probably screwed up any chance to get a series with KU —
COACH MARSHALL: You think?
Q. Is the result okay?
COACH MARSHALL: Is that what they said? We haven’t called them yet.
Q. I just assumed from the result today that might be tough. Do you think your fans would be okay with that?
COACH MARSHALL: You know, who knows? They may want to play now. Who knows. I have no idea; I’m not worried about that. I’m fine letting the series lay the way it is right now. The series is good with me at this point.
Q. Evan, your interaction with Perry at all during the game? Did you say anything to each other? Just talk about your match-up with him and the fact that high school teammates, all that stuff. How did it feel to match up with him?
EVAN WESSEL: First of all, he’s a tremendous player, tremendous athlete and he had a great game. It was a battle down there. As far as did I say anything to him, we’re both pretty quiet, we don’t say much, so I mean not really. I said good luck before the game, and that was about it, you know, wish him the best. But he had a great game, and it was definitely a challenge and a great opportunity to go against him.
Q. For Tekele, you took a shot from Oubre at the end of the game when you went up to dunk. Are you okay? Where did you come down? What did you hurt?
TEKELE COTTON: Yes, I’m okay, and he just hit me a little bit on my head, and I came down on my head a little bit, but I’m perfectly fine.
Q. Coach alluded to you not getting the shots you wanted for the first 15 minutes or so, you turned it over a few times. What changed offensively? Ron you hit a shot; Tekele, I think you might have taken one to the rim, and Fred hit a shot, too. Did things just open up? What did you see to help your offense get in a rhythm there?
RON BAKER: I think we were taking questionable shots. They might have been good looks, but I think we could have got something better. We had set out to run a type of motion that Coach called out, which is our break-down offense; and we just weren’t getting in depth into that motion offense, and we weren’t carving the defense up like we wanted to, and we were just taking okay shots instead of great ones. After about the 5-minute mark, I guess, we started taking better ones, and that’s when we kind of made that run and got the lead to end the half.
TEKELE COTTON: Just to chime off what he said, I think we were just — I know I came out and took a questionable shot, a questionable layup. I mean we weren’t just — we weren’t flowing into the offense that he called in the first couple of minutes, and I mean, we just had to get into it and get into the flow of it, and everything opened up from there.
Q. For everyone, does this win mean more than the win against Gonzaga in 2013?
EVAN WESSEL: To me, obviously the same outcome came from winning those games. I think from Gonzaga it was kind of like the highlight game for me becoming the player I am now, but just from being a Kansas kid and growing up, knowing all the times Kansas has been in the tournament, knowing exactly their — each player and all that stuff, this is definitely, to me, tops the Gonzaga game.
TEKELE COTTON: For me I didn’t get to play in the Gonzaga game, so this one is definitely up there. That was big win, the Gonzaga game, but this one is definitely a big one too. They’re both going to the Sweet 16 and they mean a lot for our program, and we got the win, and that’s what our goal was.
Q. Gregg, once again, Darius and Shaq got two fouls in the first half. Seems to happen more often than not. In this particular game were you tempted at all to get one or both of them back in the game in the first half?
COACH MARSHALL: It’s like a broken record; it seems to happen quite a bit. I’m sure Notre Dame will try to exploit that as well. Not really, because I thought when Bush came in, he played well, and the score started going in a positive direction, the plus/minus deal that we try to keep up with. That’s the most important stat of all, how the scoreboard goes in your favor or against you when you’re in the game, are you helping your team be positive or helping your team be negative. So when he was in there, that’s when we took that lead at the end of the first half.
Q. Gregg, you’ve averaged right at 30 wins over the last five years, three straight years with 30 or more wins. Final Four, now two Sweet 16s. I know there is much more to come, but can you stop and just give us a little pulse check right now on just what that means, that kind of success means to you personally and to this program?
COACH MARSHALL: It’s just — it’s awesome! You know, all those years we spent at Winthrop, nine years, seven NCAA Tournaments, the best seed that we got, other than that last year, was a 14; and that’s difficult to advance. So finally, we got the 11 seed, against Notre Dame coincidentally, and we were able to win the game. So getting to the second weekend is no comparison, able to now have a shot to go to Indianapolis and get to the Final Four. When you are able to go home and get a few days’ rest and deal with all the media and whatnot, it kinda sinks in, your one of the top 16 teams in the country at this point, with only an upside. That’s the basement. So we’re just going to continue to work, and Fred, unfortunately, has go to home tonight, and his family — he lost his grandma this past week, so keep him in your thoughts and prayers. He will come back on, I think, Tuesday morning, and we’ll start to work on getting ready for Notre Dame.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, congratulations. Thank you very much.