Wichita State forward Darius Carter lay on the floor of the CenturyLink Center, both hands covering his face as he writhed in pain.
Shockers coach Gregg Marshall approached Carter, a 6-foot-7 senior forward, stopped, and turned back toward his bench and the crowd.
“He lost his tooth,” Marshall announced. “Darius got his tooth knocked out. We need a dentist.”
The tooth wasn’t lost, actually. It just looked like it for a second.
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After catching an elbow to the face just 20 seconds into the second half of Friday’s 81-76 win over Indiana in the Round of 64 of the NCAA Tournament, Carter’s mouth — and game — weren’t the same.
“The tooth just folded back actually, it looked like it got knocked out,” Carter said. “They saved it, though. Pulled it back out.”
Carter left the floor for about 3 minutes of game time — he left at the 19:37 mark and returned with 16:50 left — and when he came back, he sparked the Shockers’ second-half rally that set up Sunday’s game with Kansas for a spot in the Sweet 16.
Carter scored seven of his nine points after getting popped in the mouth, and a moment of extreme pain seemed to have triggered the turnaround.
“When they pushed my tooth back in, I let out a big scream and I felt a release,” Carter said. “Maybe that was it, I’m not sure. I just wanted to win, that’s all.”
Carter went on the attack after he came back in the game with Wichita State trailing 47-42 — first, with a two-handed slam to cut the Hoosiers’ lead to 47-46, then a jumper right that gave the Shockers a 48-47 lead.
His jumper with 10:04 left put Wichita State up 57-54.
“Obviously, Darius was a different player after his tooth deal,” said Shockers point guard Fred VanVleet, who scored a career-high 27 points.
Carter spent most of the first half on the bench after picking up two fouls in the first 10 minutes. He only played nine minutes in the first half, but he played 10 in the second half as he and freshman Shaq Morris took over in the post.
It also broke a string of lackluster performances not only by Carter, but by the Shockers’ post players in general. Morris added eight points and freshman Zach Brown scored 11, both off the bench.
“I think Zach Brown was big, Shaq was big,” VanVleet said. “We had a lot of production off the bench.”
Carter scored seven points and grabbed 12 rebounds in two games at the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament two weeks ago in St. Louis — a win over Southern Illinois and an upset loss to Illinois State.
“We pride ourselves on toughness, on the whole ‘Play Angry’ thing,” Carter said. “It’s just we all have a will to win, and we want to play through anything that happens to us … that’s a big thing we pride ourselves on.”
Carter said he will have to sleep with a mouthguard in for a while.
“I’m thankful I got my tooth,” Carter said. “That would have been a bad look not to have a tooth.”