WICHITA — Wichita State sped up one of the slowest teams in college basketball, which was good enough to end a two-game skid for the No. 17 Shockers.
After losing both of its long winning streaks last week, home and away, in their first back-to-back conference losses since 2013, Wichita State returned to Koch Arena on Thursday and delivered an 81-62 victory over Central Florida in front of another sellout crowd of 10,506. WSU improved to 16-4 overall and 6-2 in the American Athletic Conference.
It was the second-most points UCF (13-7, 4-4) has allowed this season. The Knights’ defense was ranked in the top-10 nationally, but played just their second game without 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall, who will miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury.
WSU was led by a game-high 19 points from senior Shaquille Morris, the highest total he’s had since Dec. 5. Morris exited the game with 5:58 remaining and did not return after hurting his foot.
It was a balanced scoring effort for the Shockers, as Darral Willis added 12 points and nine rebounds, Rashard Kelly chipped in eight points and 10 rebounds, and Austin Reaves scored nine points. It was an efficient offensive performance (boosted by 22 made free throws), despite just nine combined points from Landry Shamet and Markis McDuffie.
WSU coach Gregg Marshall made substantial changes to the starting lineup, inserting Reaves, McDuffie, and Rauno Nurger to replace Conner Frankamp, Zach Brown, and Morris. It was the first start of the season for McDuffie, while Frankamp and Brown didn’t start for the first time in 25 games.
But the replacements didn’t provide the surge Marshall was looking for _ after four minutes WSU led 4-2, and the offense had empty possessions on five of seven trips.
Willis provided the first offensive lift, scoring six straight points, including a three-point play on a put-back to give WSU its first sizable lead, 21-13, with 9:42 to play in the first half.
Even though WSU went almost six minutes without a field goal, it extended the lead to 16 on six straight free throws made by Samajae Haynes-Jones and Reaves and capped by a step-back, catch-and-shoot 3-pointer by Morris for a 36-20 lead with 2:37 remaining.
In danger of being buried in the opening 20 minutes, UCF showed some fight by reeling off an 11-3 run to cut WSU’s halftime lead to 39-31.
But UCF would only spend a little more than two minutes within single-digits, as the Shockers controlled the second half to avoid back-to-back losses at Koch Arena for the first time since February 2011. WSU played with the lead for 38:53 of the game’s 40 minutes.
It was the first meeting between the programs, although the two do share a link in Donnie Jones. The current WSU assistant coach was the head coach at UCF from 2010-16 and recruited UCF stars B.J. Taylor and Tacko Fall.