Morris Udeze has been waiting a long time to make the impact he's wanted to for the Wichita State men's basketball team.
The wait is over.
After missing the final 18 games of last season because of a shoulder injury, Udeze has proven to be in fine form to start his sophomore season. He's now scored career-highs in back-to-back games after the 6-foot-8, 240-pound bulldozer from Houston finished with a team-high 15 points to lead the Shockers to a 74-52 victory over Gardner-Webb on Tuesday at Koch Arena.
WSU improved to 4-0 with its second straight dominant performance at Koch Arena, while Gardner-Webb fell to 0-4.
"All summer I've been working hard to get back to where I was last year or even better," Udeze said. "I just keep grinding every day for that."
"I'm really excited for him because at one point he was talking about redshirting when he was rehabbing the shoulder," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. "Those shoulders are a problem. I can't imagine how hard he worked to get it back to this point. I'm so happy that he's enjoying some success."
The Shockers had four scorers in double-digits in Udeze, Jamarius Burton (15 points, four rebounds, four assists), Trey Wade (11 points) and Erik Stevenson (10 points, four rebounds, five assists). Even more impressive, WSU held Gardner-Webb to its fewest points since Nov. 10, 2017. Even with 11 of 21 shooting beyond the arc, Gardner-Webb finished shooting 35.6% from the floor.
With last year's starting center Jaime Echenique currently sidelined — he has a doctor's follow-up on Wednesday to determine when he can return from his broken hand -- WSU desperately needed one of its three other centers to step up. Udeze has responded to the challenge.
"I feel like he adds a lot of toughness to our ball club," Burton said. "He's going 120% every time, whether that's on the offense end or defensive end. He's crashing the boards, giving us second-chance opportunities and he's finishing in the paint for us, which is big."
Udeze scored the first two baskets on rolls to the basket. He had a 40-pound advantage over any starter on Gardner-Webb and he capitalized on it. His next basket came when he muscled his way inside and finished with strength on what became a three-point play.
It's been an encouraging sight to see from Udeze. After surgery in February, Udeze missed most of this summer's workouts.
Just as it had done three days earlier, WSU jumped out to an early lead that forced the opponent to call a timeout before the first media break. Udeze scored on back-to-back possessions, then Trey Wade stole a pass and finished with a fast-break slam for a 6-0 lead within the first three minutes.
And just like on Saturday, the early timeout didn't prevent a Shocker onslaught.
Burton had his fingerprints all over an 11-0 run midway through the first half that opened a 20-6 lead. He drilled a three-pointer in transition, then dished an assist to Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler for an easy basket and capped the rally by finding Noah Fernandes in transition for another three-pointer.
WSU piled on another run, this time a 12-1 charge that buried Gardner-Webb in a 35-12 hole after 13 minutes. Wade and Burton drilled threes during the run, then Stevenson capped it with a steal and smooth finish in transition.
"It's like a muddy track and you're in a horse race," Marshall said of the quick starts. "If you're not the lead horse, you know what you get? You get a lot of horses' (rear-ends) and mud in your eye. So I like to run ahead as much as I can."
There were some rough moments after WSU established a 20-point lead that drew the ire of Marshall, but the Shockers played the final 33 minutes of the game with a double-digit lead over a Gardner-Webb team that had just hung with North Carolina for the first 35 minutes Friday.
Gardner-Webb did cut the deficit to 13 points out of halftime for a few uneasy moments to begin the second half, but the Shockers ultimately responded with 13 straight points to extend the lead to 56-30.
The rally was started and ended with a Stevenson three-pointer. In between, Burton scored five straight points and Udeze added another layup on a Stevenson dime at the end of the shot clock. Gardner-Webb never came within 20 points after that.
"I think our length and size bothered them," Marshall said. "I don't know whether it was fatigue having to play against North Carolina a couple of days ago, then coming out here and having to deal with Mo Udeze and Asbjorn Midtgaard."
"We're communicating better on the defensive end and sharing the ball and giving 120% while we're out there," Burton said. "We play hard, then another five can come right in. We have a lot of depth. If everyone goes out there and gives 120%, then you see the results."
WSU is now 4-0 to start a season for the sixth time in the last eight years. The last two wins, over UT Martin and Gardner-Webb, were considered preliminary games in the Cancun Challenge. The Shockers will play Oral Roberts at Koch Arena on Saturday before leaving Sunday to play in South Carolina in Cancun on Tuesday.