By Paul Suellentrop
Tribune News Service
WICHITA -- Wichita State's Darius Carter isn't sure how Fred VanVleet slipped a bounce pass through a thicket of defenders. Once he got the ball, he knew how to finish the play.
"I wanted those points real bad," Carter said. "Great pass. I just caught it and went up as hard as humanly possible."
Carter's dunk gave No. 11 Wichita State a 53-52 win over Alabama on Wednesday at Koch Arena and completed a 13-1 run that gave the Shockers their school-record 23rd straight home win.
Carter's dunk with 11 seconds to play gave WSU its first lead since the first half and stood up when Alabama's Riley Cooper airballed a 3-pointer in the final second.
"We never panic around here, but we were definitely nervous," WSU guard Ron Baker said. "We started hitting some shots and got some big stops. They didn't like our pressure."
The Shockers (8-1) trailed 51-40 with 6:01 to play. Alabama (6-3) committed four turnovers in the final 4:56 to help WSU's rally. The Shockers played most of the second half without starting forward Evan Wessel, who injured his right ankle.
Carter led WSU with 16 points, 10 in the first half. Baker added 14. Levi Randolph and Shannon Hale both scored 13 for Alabama.
Carter dunked with 11 seconds to play to put WSU up 53-52. Alabama didn't call timeout, giving the ball to leading scorer Randoph. He drove into the lane and Shockers surrounded him, with VanVleet poking it loose. Randolph dove on the ball and the Tide called timeout with 1.2 seconds to play.
WSU trailed Detroit by 10 points on Saturday before its full-court pressure changed the game. The press worked just as well against the Tide.
Baker's three-point play cut Alabama's lead to 51-47 with 3:42 to play. Rashard Kelly's layup made it 51-49.
WSU trapped Michael Kessens near halfcourt and he lost the ball. Kelly dove on it and to give the Shockers the ball after a timeout. He scored in the lane to tie it 51-all.
WSU's press continued to rattle the Tide. Cooper threw the ball across court and out of bounds. The Shockers failed to take advantage after misses by VanVleet and Carter.
"We forced some turnovers and were able to capitalize," Baker said. "After we scored and go into our full-court press, you kind of smelled the unsureness."
WSU shot 40.8 percent from the field and missed 13 of 18 three-pointers. Their season-long struggle at the foul line continued with an 8-for-17 performance. Alabama's changing defenses, height and long arms made it difficult to score.
"We couldn't buy a three-point basket, or a free throw," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said.
The Shockers trailed 25-24 at halftime, the first deficit after 20 minutes this season. Alabama's size and effort made scoring a chore and the Shockers ended the half missing six straight shots and carrying a scoring drought of 3:30. The Tide finished the half on a 6-0 run to grab the lead.
WSU made 9 of 27 shots in the first half and committed five turnovers. Alabama, which suffered through a scoring drought of more than five minutes, made 9 of 24 shots and 2 of 9 3-pointers. The Tide trailed 24-19 after a 3-pointer by Baker. The Shockers missed four straight shots and turned the ball over before Alabama's Ricky Tarrant scored to cut the lead to 24-22. Riley Norris' follow shot tied the game 24-all. Shannon Hale gave Alabama a 25-24 lead with 18.1 seconds to play with a free throw.
Kelly missed two free throws with 2.4 seconds to play in the first half.
Carter scored 10 of WSU's first 13 points to help the Shockers lead 13-9. Alabama's zone sold out to stop WSU's outside shooters, often leaving Carter defended solo. He started the game with two jumpers and then worked inside for two three-point plays.
The Tide paid close attention to Baker, who scored six first-half points and made 2 of 4 threes.
WSU lost Wessel late in the first half after he tipped in a miss by Cotton for a 21-18 lead. He landed awkwardly on his right ankle and trainers helped him, putting no weight on the injured leg, to the training room. He returned to start the second half, but only played about a minute.
Alabama continued to squeeze WSU's shooters in the second half and built a 39-31 lead on Randolph's three-point play, answering a 3-pointer by VanVleet. Alabama made six of its first nine shots in the half.
A drive and basket by VanVleet cut the lead to 39-33.
Alabama continued to answer each WSU charge, often using its big men to score against Shocker freshmen. Kessens got good position against Kelly and scored for a 43-35 lead. Randolph beat WSU's half-court trap for a bank shot and a 45-38 lead. When WSU's Corey Henderson Jr. went under a screen, Ricky Tarrant made a three for a 48-40 lead.
After Carter missed on a spin move, Hale made a three from the wing for a 51-40 lead with 6:01 remaining.
Carter responded with a dunk. After an Alabama miss, VanVleet pushed the ball for a layup and drew a foul, but missed the free throw. Carter rebound and VanVleet drew another foul. He missed the front end of a one-on-one.
But the Shockers' late-game comeback was underway.