Play Angry prevailed over Havoc on Saturday in front of the season’s most raucous crowd at Koch Arena and in front of a national television audience.
Wichita State defeated VCU 73-63 and the 10-1 Shockers have made a compelling case to return to the national rankings Monday for the first time in two seasons.
Not only did WSU even the series with VCU with its third win over the Rams (9-3), but the Shockers exacted revenge for the 70-54 loss in Richmond, Virginia one year ago. Since the 2011 home loss to VCU, WSU has defeated 56 of 57 nonconference opponents at Koch Arena. WSU also ended VCU’s seven-game road winning streak, which was tied with WSU for the second-longest in the country.
WSU had four scorers in double-digits in Jaime Echenique (14 points, six rebounds), Grant Sherfield (14 points), Jamarius Burton (10 points, eight rebounds, five assists) and Tyson Etienne (10 points). The Shockers outrebounded VCU by five, including 16 offensive rebounds, and hung on despite 16 turnovers (11 coming in the second half).
Saturday started with ominous news, as WSU announced Dexter Dennis has taken an “indefinite leave of absence” from the team. Dennis, a 6-foot-5 sophomore from Baker, Louisiana, is averaging 7.1 points and 4.3 rebounds in 23.7 minutes per game this season for the Shockers.
If there were worries that news could deflate WSU, the Shockers responded with their most destructive opening stretch all season.
WSU started the game with back-to-back easy baskets by Echenique in the first minute. That ignited the most electric crowd of the season at Koch Arena and the team and fans fed off each other for a thrill ride over the game’s first four minutes.
Stevenson followed with a three. Trey Wade pulled the rim down for another dunk. Echenique added two free throws and a three-point play. Udeze scored a layup, then Burton capped the furious rally with a pull-up jumper that sent WSU into the first media timeout with an 18-6 lead over VCU. The Shockers scored 18 points on their first nine possessions.
VCU proved resilient early, though. Even with starting center and leading scorer Marcus Santos-Silva strapped with two early fouls, VCU fought through the adversity in a rowdy environment to crawl back to within 29-23 with 6:57 remaining in the first half.
That’s when WSU responded with enough “Play Angry” moments that surely made Xavier McDaniel and Antoine Carr beam with pride.
Burton, in particular, played with more than an edge than usual. He was on the ground for every loose ball and even ripped away a few of them from VCU. On one of those rebounds, Burton wrestled it away and then dumped it to Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler for a basket and a foul.
Not to be out-done, freshman Noah Fernandes brought the Koch Arena crowd to life with a head-first dive to the floor to force a tie-up. After the call, Fernandes leaped to his feet and summoned the crowd for more noise.
But the WSU crowd didn’t reach its peak until late in the second half when the Shockers came up with three straight offensive rebounds on the same possession, ending with a Burton swish from beyond the perimeter for a 38-25 lead with 4:55 remaining.
WSU took a 42-30 lead into halftime because the Shockers were able to turn VCU’s full-court pressure against the Rams. WSU finished with 12 offensive rebounds and dominated the turnover battle against VCU, which entered as one of the best in the nation in that regard. WSU scored 12 points off 11 VCU turnovers, while the Rams failed to score off any of WSU’s five turnovers.
Out of halftime, WSU pushed the lead to 16 points, thanks to three early three-pointers — one from Stevenson and another two from Etienne — for a 51-35 lead.
When VCU pushed to trim the deficit to 10, Echenique spurred a 6-0 spurt with a hook shot underneath and two straight blocks. Poor Bear-Chandler finished on a slick move, then Echenique’s blocks sprung a WSU fast break that Grant Sherfield finished with a basket and a foul for a 58-41 lead with 9:17 remaining.
VCU trimmed a 17-point deficit down to nine, 69-60, with 2:17 remaining, but WSU was able to come up with an offensive rebound and two free throws by Stevenson to preserve the win.