Wichita State basketball rallies past SMU to pick up first AAC win in stunning fashion

It was five years in late January when the Wichita State men’s basketball team used a win over SMU to turn around its season.

The Shockers are hoping a repeat is on the way after they snapped their eight-game losing streak with a 77-72 win over the Mustangs are Koch Arena on Sunday afternoon.

The 2018-19 team was resuscitated from a 1-6 start in conference play with a Samajae Haynes-Jones buzzer-beater in the Roundhouse to beat SMU on Jan. 30, 2019. WSU won nine of its final 11 conference games and ended the season in Madison Square Garden playing in the NIT semifinals.

The 2023-24 Shockers will try to do something similar after an 0-6 start in American Athletic Conference play and enduring the program’s longest losing streak since 2001.

“There were times where the entire program is frustrated. Nobody wants to lose eight games in a row like that,” WSU leading scorer Colby Rogers said. “So you have two options: you can either dwell on the negatives and stay in that funk or you can try to fight your way out of it. We did a good job of that (Sunday). That feels good and now we need to capitalize on this momentum.”

There’s certainly a lot for the Shockers (9-11, 1-6 AAC) to build on after scoring a borderline Quad 1 win at home over a SMU (13-7, 4-3 AAC) squad ranked No. 36 on KenPom.

WSU stared down a 70-65 deficit entering the final three minutes, but six straight points from Ronnie DeGray III, all at the rim on the same play, helped propel WSU to a 73-72 lead with 34 seconds left.

On the ensuing possession, SMU leading scorer Zhuric Phelps went straight at Rogers but the WSU guard came up with the block at the rim and secured the rebound. After being fouled, Rogers made both free throws to boost WSU’s lead to 75-72 with 18 seconds left.

“I just wanted to win, so I knew we had to lock in and dig deep and make sure I got that stop” Rogers said. “Not just for me, but for the team. I just used our defensive principles and used their tendencies against them and then it was just 1-on-1 defense, close out, try to beat them to the spot and make it tough on them.”

SMU had a look at a game-tying 3-pointer, but the shot from Chuck Harris missed. The Mustangs were fouled during the rebounding scrum, but Phelps missed the front-end of a bonus free throw. WSU rebounded and Xavier Bell sank both free throws to secure the victory.

“They did a lot of things well and credit to them,” SMU coach Rob Lanier said on his radio show. “To lose eight in a row and still have the wherewithal to compete and out-work us in this game is a real credit to them.”

Up against the No. 2-ranked shooting defense in the country, WSU made 46.7% of its shots, assisted 17 of 28 made buckets and had a balanced scoring effort with seven players between seven and 14 points. The Shockers produced 1.15 points per possession, which was a season-high allowed by SMU’s defense.

Not only did WSU win the rebounding battle, which was a key against one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, but it also dominated second-chance points: out-scoring the Mustangs 21-4.

After turning the ball over 11 times in the first half, WSU committed just one turnover in 28 second-half possessions. The team also made 10 of 12 free throws in the second half, including six straight to help close out the win.

The Shockers cleaned up the areas where they were struggling and showed they could hang with the top-half of the conference. The win over SMU (No. 34) was the highest-rated KenPom win (at the time of the game) since taking down No. 5 Houston, 68-63, at Koch Arena on Feb. 18, 2021.

“Even when games weren’t going our way, our guys were great. The buy-in, the character, the effectiveness of your culture in that locker room,” WSU head coach Paul Mills said. “Everybody can have an effective culture and buy-in when it’s going well, but these guys didn’t waver at all.

“We knew there was a brand of immature basketball we were playing. When you’re playing these one- and two-possession games, you can’t have that. Tonight, nothing registers for me on a immaturity standpoint. The guys did a phenomenal job of just understanding possessions and the value of them that it takes to win games.”

WSU’s win probability cratered to just 7.7%, according to KenPom, when SMU opened up a 29-18 lead on a 3-pointer by Harris (game-high 15 points) with 7:47 remaining in the first half.

But the Shockers managed to whittle away at the lead and draw back to within 41-37 at halftime. A 6-0 spurt by WSU tied the game at 50 with 13:11 left in the second half, but SMU pulled off a 7-0 run of its own to open up a 67-61 lead with 5:02 left.

That’s when the Shockers closed the game out-scoring SMU 16-5 in the final five minutes. The Mustangs shot 50% from the field and made nine 3-pointers, but were out-scored 15-5 at the foul line and turned the ball over 16 times.

With SMU set to leave the conference this summer, Sunday’s matchup concluded — barring a postseason pairing — a competitive, wild but one-sided rivalry in the American. The Shockers and Mustangs produced some of the wildest games since WSU joined the conference, but WSU usually won them — evidence by an 8-1 record and eight straight wins (five by six points or less).

Harlond Beverly led the way in scoring with 14 points for WSU and added five rebounds and four assists. Rogers added 12 points, five rebounds and two steals, while Dalen Ridgnal hit three 3-pointers and came up with three steals, DeGray finished with 11 points and five rebounds (three offensive) off the bench and Bell added nine points and five assists off the bench.

A halftime ceremony honored the four 2024 inductees into the Shocker Sports Hall of Fame, as Charlie Giaudrone (baseball), Alex Harden (women’s basketball), Taryn Torgerson (women’s golf) and Cacy Williams (softball) were all accompanied by their families.