WSU knocks off No. 6 Houston in historic win

By Taylor Eldridge
The Wichita Eagle/TNS
Wichita State's Tyson Etienne shoots a free throw during the second half against Houston in January  2021, at Fertitta Center in Houston.

For the first time in 54 years, the Wichita State men’s basketball team has beaten a top-6 team in the country at home.

The Shockers showed their mettle for all to see on national television, as they rallied from a double-digit deficit to defeat No. 6 Houston, 68-63, at Koch Arena on Thursday. It is the best win for WSU at home since knocking off No. 2 Louisville, 84-78, on Feb. 25, 1967.

With the victory, WSU also moves into sole possession of first place in the American Athletic Conference on winning percentage - the Shockers are 9-2 in conference play, while Houston fell to 11-3.

It was also considered a must-win game for WSU for its NCAA Tournament chances, according to bracketologists. The Shockers (12-4) now have the coveted marquee victory over the No. 5-ranked team in the NET to vault them into the conversation for an at-large berth in March.

WSU had four scorers in double-digits with senior Alterique Gilbert (16 points), Tyson Etienne (16 points), Dexter Dennis (12 points) and Ricky Council (11 points). The Shockers made 40.8% of their field goals, hit 10 three-pointers and made 18 of 23 free throws.

But maybe the most important statistic came in the rebounding department, where WSU outrebounded Houston 35-33 and grabbed just as many offensive rebounds (15) as the Cougars. Against one of the nation’s best rebounding teams, that was a monumental victory for WSU.

It didn’t come without plenty of drama.

WSU held a 62-54 lead with less than three minutes remaining, but allowed Houston to rally to within two points with 55.6 seconds remaining. Gilbert delivered a much-needed basket on a layup for a 64-60 lead, but Houston’s Quentin Grimes banked in a three-pointer to cut WSU’s lead to 64-63 with 19.2 seconds left.

After Etienne missed the front-end of a bonus free throw, Houston had a chance for the win in the final seconds but threw a cross-court pass that was picked off by Dennis that sprung a fast break that led to a Flagrant 2 foul on Justin Gorham with 11.4 seconds left. Dennis made both free throws to extend the lead to 66-63, then Etienne was fouled with 10.8 seconds left and made both free throws for a 68-63 lead to secure the win.

When Houston whittled WSU’s 10-point down to 51-49 with 8:50 remaining, the Shockers responded with an Etienne three-pointer and Trey Wade dunk to extend the lead back out to 56-49. The Cougars trimmed the deficit to three again, then the Shockers again had the answer with a pair of Morris Udeze free throws and a Dennis layup for a 60-53 lead with 3:33 remaining.

WSU looked devoid of momentum when it trailed Houston by 12 points late in the first half. But the Shockers were able to shoot their way back into the game from beyond the arc against the third-best three-point shooting defense in the country.

Over an eight-minute stretch spanning the final five minutes of the first half and the first three minutes of the second half, WSU was unconscious from beyond the arc. The Shockers made seven straight three-pointers, capped by back-to-back triples by Gilbert that capped a 28-6 flurry that turned a 12-point deficit into a 44-34 lead with 16:57 remaining.

WSU entered the game ranked No. 246 in the country in three-point shooting percentage (32.3%), but made 9 of its first 13 three-pointers against a defense that opponents were shooting just 26.9% against.

For the first 15 minutes of the first half, many of the nightmare scenarios for the Shockers unfolded. They couldn’t keep Houston off the offensive glass. Their offense was neutered by Houston’s aggressive trapping defense on ball screens. And they looked completely out-classed during a nearly 11-minute stretch when WSU could only muster one made field goal.

Faced with a 28-16 deficit and the threat of Houston turning things ugly on its home court, WSU started its run back in the game with Council draining a guarded triple, then Etienne hit one and Council followed with another. Etienne continued the run with a highlight-worthy play splitting a double team with a between-his-legs dribble for a jumper and foul, then Council finished off a 14-4 run with a finish in transition.