WICHITA (TNS) — Wichita State wasn’t going to let this opportunity go to waste.
The Shockers had a national audience courtesy of ESPN, and a sold-out, striped-out audience at Koch Arena to witness the program’s first home American Athletic Conference game. It had all the makings of a raucous atmosphere — it just needed something to set it off.
WSU did just that, as it overwhelmed Houston with its best offensive first half of the season then coasted to an 81-63 victory on Thursday. The No. 9 Shockers improved to 12-2 and 2-0 in the AAC, while Houston fell to 12-3 and 2-1.
Landry Shamet led four in double-digits for WSU with 18 points, joined by Conner Frankamp (15), Shaquille Morris (14), and Marcus McDuffie (11). Houston’s Rob Gray, who entered averaging 19 points, scored 13 points on 14 shots.
The game was essentially over by halftime with Wichita State leading 53-32. It led by as many as 25 at one point and delivered its second most-efficient half of offense, scoring at 1.51 points per possession thanks to 10 of 16 shooting on three-pointers and 59-percent shooting overall.
The rout began with McDuffie, who had missed all eight of his jump shots in two games since returning from a stress fracture in his foot, making his first shot — a three-pointer — and drawing a foul. The four-point play was followed by another three-pointer on the following possession, which forced Houston coach Kelvin Sampson to burn a time-out to stop the 8-0 run that gave WSU an 18-8 lead.
But the stoppage in play did little to slow down the Shockers.
McDuffie scored 11 points in the game’s first 10 minutes to spark WSU, then the Shockers produced a SportsCenter-worthy stretch of three-point shooting.
Shamet started the string dribbling into a contested, end-of-shot-clock three-pointer that swished. Next up was a Frankamp corner three-pointer with a defender draped all over him, followed by a Morris rainbow three from straight-on.
Was there any question when Frankamp dribbled in transition and decided to pull on a heat-check from nearly 25 feet out that the ball was finding the bottom of the net? The shot splashed through to give WSU three-pointers on four consecutive possessions and a 46-21 lead, sending the WSU crowd into hysterics.
It was an electric performance, one that will be remembered for the 10 three-pointers but was just as impressive on the defensive end where Zach Brown chased Gray, the AAC’s leading returning scorer, over and through screens and all over the court. Brown harrassed Gray into 4-of-10 shooting in the first half.
WSU’s intensity followed over to start the second half, as Frankamp connected on another three-pointer and Shamet delivered a dunk on a back cut that Rashard Kelly identified to give WSU a 62-32 lead on a team in the discussion for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
WSU led by double-digits for the final 32 minutes, 35 seconds of the game.
Things were going so well in the second half that not even a Kelly free throw that completely missed the rim could irritate coach Gregg Marshall, who even cracked a grin as Kelly’s next attempt swished through and the crowd roared in approval.
After playing relatively close games for its past seven games, WSU’s 18-point victory was tied for the largest of the season outside of the non-conference drubbings of Missouri-Kansas City (by 52) and Savannah State (by 46).