Wichita State basketball falls at East Carolina. Why this loss felt like a step back

The kernel of hope Wichita State could cling to as the losses piled up this season was that the team was right there in games.

That’s why Thursday evening inside the Minges Coliseum felt like a step backward for the Shockers, which were thoroughly defeated in a 68-55 win by East Carolina.

It wasn’t long ago when WSU was in a class above ECU. Now the Pirates (13-12, 6-6 AAC) have won three of the last four meetings and look down on the Shockers (10-15, 2-10 AAC) in the conference standings.

Here are three takeaways from WSU’s performance:

1. Wichita State still has not learned how to win on the road

The Shockers were competitive down to the final minutes of road losses to Temple, Florida Atlantic, South Florida, Tulsa and Memphis. The team even held double-digit leads at some point in three of those games.

Thursday saw WSU build a 17-11 lead early, but that was the extent of its good play in Greenville. ECU ripped off a 16-2 run in four minutes halfway through the first half to seize control of the momentum for good.

After playing confident, aggressive and physical against No. 20-ranked FAU for 40 minutes this past Sunday, the Shockers were lacking in all of those attributes on Thursday, as the Pirates took the fight to them and made WSU look uncomfortable for the majority of the game.

WSU trailed by double-figures for the entire second half, its lone push coming during a 7-0 spurt to trim the deficit to 59-48 with 5 minutes, 28 seconds left. But the momentum sputtered out, as WSU failed to string together enough stops and scores to mount a legitimate comeback.

A 4-for-21 performance beyond the arc tanked WSU’s shooting percentage to 37.7% from the field, the sixth sub-40% outing of the season. Throw in 14 turnovers and WSU’s efficiency sank to 0.87 points per possession, fourth-worst of the season.

Brandon Johnson and R.J. Felton each scored 21 points to lead ECU to its second straight victory, while Colby Rogers led WSU with 16 points but needed 18 shots to do it. The Shockers dropped to 1-6 in road games, their lone win coming on Nov. 16 at Coastal Carolina.

2. Wichita State basketball couldn’t pick up the blitz

It might sound like football terminology, but the Shockers rarely made ECU pay for its aggressive pick-and-roll coverage.

The Pirates “blitzed” their big man whenever WSU set a ball screen, meaning they chased WSU’s ball handler and forced them to retreat. Meanwhile, ECU’s help defense was organized and prepared to take away the paint.

That left the perimeter open, but ECU was content to leave the right shooters alone on a team that is among the bottom-third in college basketball in 3-point percentage. WSU shot 19% (4 of 21) against ECU, missing 12 of its final 13 attempts beyond the arc.

Sometimes a 3-pointer was the only shot WSU’s offense could find against the aggressive style of defense; other times, WSU hoisted a 3-pointer early in the shot clock rather than remain patient. Nine of WSU’s first 10 shots in the game were from distance.

WSU eventually course corrected in the second half, but the team took more 3s than 2s in the first half — never a good sign for the offense.

3. Lack of attention to detail continues to haunt Shockers in losses

As the final seconds of the first half ticked away, WSU head coach Paul Mills screamed from the sidelines for WSU to use its final foul before entering the bonus to prevent ECU from attacking.

Instead, Harlond Beverly and Ronnie DeGray III allowed ECU’s Jaden Walker to split their double team and score a layup as time expired to give the Pirates a 38-27 halftime advantage.

It encapsulated one of WSU’s poorest defensive efforts since conference play began, as the Shockers allowed an ECU offense that ranked second-to-last in AAC play to pretty much do whatever it pleased in the first half.

The Pirates made 59.3% from their shots, the best shooting percentage in a half in two years under coach Mike Schwartz. Some of that was the result of a hot shooting night, but WSU’s defense suffered far too many breakdowns that allowed ECU to score the majority of its points without a contest.