Game #9-329: Wichita State Shockers at Missouri State BearsJanuary 23, 2013 8:05 pm
I recently decided to rank the 25 best college
basketball games I've ever attended in person throughout my lifetime. If your first reaction to that statement is, "that's weird," then you're wrong. It's awesome. I've been thinking lately how fortunate I've been over the past several years to attend some pretty cool basketball games, and I wanted to get my ranking down on paper.
I am the sole creator of this list. I decide the criteria. I base my rankings on a lot of different things, including memorable finishes, the magnitude of the game and stellar individual performances. However, there is no way to statistically quantify what makes a game "better" than another, so it's all at my complete discretion. In a lot of instances, I go with my heart. I go with the games that I remember most fondly, even if my ranking wouldn't make sense to outsiders.
The number one game on the list is not the Ohio/North Carolina Sweet 16 game I saw a year ago in St. Louis. It is not the final Missouri/Kansas game at Mizzou Arena. It was not an NCAA Tournament game, nor did it involve any teams that even qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
The best college basketball game I have ever attended happened on March 6, 2009. Wichita State trailed Creighton by 22 points in the second half of a Missouri Valley Conference Tournament quarterfinal game. It was the third of four games on that Friday, and the Bluejays were right on the bubble and could not afford a loss. At all. It was desperation mode for Dana Altman's proud program. With the Jays up by 22, I left my seat on press row behind the Creighton bench and took my tape recorder to the very top of the Scottrade
Center. At the time, I wanted to be a sportscaster. That was my junior-in-high-school phase that quickly evaporated. Anyway, I went up to the rafters and practiced where nobody could bother me. The game was a blowout, so I didn't mind giving up my front row seat for a little bit.
As the second half wore on, I got in the groove as a fake sportscaster. I was practically a very, very young and much, much less perverted Brent Musberger. The game wasn't close
, so there wasn't much pressure. Also, there was the minor fact that nobody was listening.
Suddenly, Wichita State started to creep back in the game. "And the Shockers have found a way to make this competitive," I say to myself like a crazy person. The tension elevates. You can feel Creighton collapsing. The game becomes more than just competitive. 15-point game. 10-point game. Eight-point game. I need to get back to press row, I'm thinking. I need to see the end of this from the best seat in the house, not from the top of section 305. Problem is, there's only a few minutes left in the game, and I know I don't have time to hop on the elevator and find my seat behind the bench.
I was going to have to watch the end of this game from the bleachers
Wichita State scored again. And again. With the clock ticking down, the Shockers have it down to two points. Gregg Marshall, then in his second season as WSU's head coach, has orchestrated one hell of a comeback. The inbound pass goes to Toure' Murry. He lets it fly from the corner. "Good! He hits!" Creighton rushes down the floor for a game-wining attempt. Ball knocked out of bounds. Buzzer sounds. "THE SHOCKERS HAVE SHOCKED THE WORLD!"That's my new trademark phrase, apparently. Of course, I was dead wrong. The game wasn't over, even though Wichita State was celebrating like it was. The refs put 1.9 seconds back on the clock. So much for my trademark.
After a long delay, Altman draws up an inbounds play for Missouri Valley Player of the Year Booker Woodfox. I still have the recording of this moment on tape, so let's hear it:
"To Woodfox... he didn't get a shot off! He finally does and WOODFOX HITS IT AT THE BUZZER! WOODFOX HITS IT AT THE BUZZER AND CREIGHTON SAVES ITS NCAA TOURNAMENT HOPES! JUST WHEN IT LOOKS LIKE WICHITA STATE HAD WON, BOOXER WOODFOX WINS IT WITH A TWO!"
I sounded like a pre-pubscent girl. I lost my mind. It was the most exciting moment of my fake broadcasting career. It was also the most astute. Notice the first line: "he didn't get a shot off." Weird, right? Well, that's because when I watched the play, I thought he had taken way longer than 1.9 seconds to catch the ball, dribble and then throw in that shot. I figured time had run out, but it hadn't. So odd.
I then decided I should probably get down to the media area to, you know, do the job I was supposed to be doing as a writer. When I walked into the hallway, I saw a pack of reporters cornering MVC commissioner Doug Elgin. They looked intense. They wanted answers. They wanted to know why the clock didn't start on time after Woodfox caught the ball, and how the officials could have possibly thought he took that dribble and shot the ball in 1.9 seconds.
That's when I realized Booker Woodfox's shot wasn't just a buzzer-beater. It might be the most infamous and disputed buzzer-beater in Wichita State basketball history.
The shot counted. It kept Creighton alive for less than 24 hours. Illinois State beat the Jays by about a million points in the semi-finals, and it was off to the NIT for Dana Altman.
The shot sent Wichita State to the CBI. In two seasons, Marshall was 28-37. Not very good at a place with Wichita State's tradition. When Marshall greeted reporters in the media room, I could tell he was devastated. I may be having a false memory here, but I remember him crying. I distinctly remember him telling us the story of his young child, who was begging him to do something about the clock malfunction. The Valley said it counted and that the clock was fine. That was the end of that story. "Can't you do something, daddy?" was the line I think Marshall relayed to us. I believe his wife and children may have been in the media room. I'm not sure on that memory, either, but I know Marshall looked like a man who was under a lot of pressure. In two seasons at Wichita State, he was struggling to rebuild this program back into a winner. He dominated the Big South as Winthrop's head coach, but he hadn't done anything for the Shockers yet. He looked defeated.
Four years later, Gregg Marshall walked into the media room of JQH Arena with the strut of a proud papa. "I want to congratulate the young man to my far right," he said, pointing to Demetric Williams. The senior had just become the winningest player in Wichita State men's basketball history after his team beat Missouri State. Williams has now won 99 games for the Shockers, and he is the best example of Marshall's rebuilding project at Wichita State. He joined the team the fall after the Woodfox incident. As a freshman, the Shockers made the NIT. As a sophomore, they bowed out early to Indiana State in the MVC tourney and then won the NIT. As a junior, Wichita State had a dream 27-6 season, even though it ended in a dud in the NCAA Tournament.
Now, his team is set for a second consecutive appearance in the Big Dance. Williams is a part of the fiercest defensive squad in the Valley. It took six years, but Marshall has finally put his stamp on this program. Although the majority of last year's team graduated, Marshall developed players like Carl Hall and Tekele Cotton and once again has a group of bodybuilders who just happen to play basketball. They're good at basketball, too. They rough you up, intimidate you and make you quit playing. When Missouri State went up eight in the second half, Wichita State got angry and came roaring back.
It was a vintage Gregg Marshall performance, but it's amazing to consider how far his team has come during Williams' four years. Booker Woodfox's disputed jumper might have been rock bottom for Wichita State. Now, there's no telling how high these guys will soar.
Wichita State's win over the Bears wasn't the best college basketball game I've ever seen. Not even close. Probably doesn't even crack the top-50. They can't all be instant classics, though, and they can't all have crazy comebacks and wild clock malfunctions.
On this night, I was just happy to watch a really good basketball program play ball, a program that took several years to build. Sometimes, that's enough for a guy like me.