Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall pulled seniors Tekele Cotton and Darius Carter with 20 seconds to play and hugged both of them. A few seconds later, the Shockers walked off the court to cheers from their fans.
Wichita State rarely faces an offense it can’t bully, disrupt or fluster.
The Shockers rarely bothered Notre Dame on Thursday, and their season is over because of the Irish’s smooth execution and accurate shooting. Third-seeded Notre Dame defeated seventh-seeded Wichita State 81-70 in the Midwest Regional semifinal at Quicken Loans Arena by making 75 percent of its shots in the second half.
Wichita State (30-5) went three for 18 from three-point range. Notre Dame (32-6) advances to Saturday’s regional final against either Kentucky or West Virginia. The Irish made 18 of 24 shots in the second half (75 percent) and knocked the Shockers out after Wichita State cut the lead to six points.
Wichita State heads into an uncertain offseason with the strong possibility that coach Gregg Marshall will listen to an offer from Alabama. Junior guard Ron Baker, who will graduate in May after spending four seasons at Wichita State, may choose to play professionally instead of using his final season of eligibility. Assistant coach Steve Forbes is reportedly the top candidate at East Tennessee State, and his departure could happen quickly.
Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet scored 25 points and Carter added 22. Demetrius Jackson led the Irish with 20 points. Notre Dame made nine of 19 threes and 30 of 54 shots. They are the only team to break 80 points against Wichita State this season.
The Shockers trailed 33-30 at halftime and quickly grabbed their first lead of the game. VanVleet started the second by splitting two defenders to drive for a layup. Darius Carter scored in the lane. VanVleet stole the ball from Jackson and drew a foul. His two free throws pulled Wichita State within 37-36. Carter’s hook shot gave Wichita State a 38-37 lead and Notre Dame called timeout.
Jackson took those instructions seriously. He made two threes to give the Irish a 43-38 lead and then fed Bonzie Colson for a layup. Steve Vasturia’s three gave Notre Dame a 47-42 lead.
The Irish made 10 of their first 12 shots in the second half to build a 56-46 lead, mystifying Wichita State’s defense with quick ball movement and expert shooting. Jackson made a layup over Baker after a Wichita State basket, a rare defensive breakdown by the Shockers. Grant, briefly freed of Cotton’s defense, went by Wichita State freshman Zach Brown for a layup.
The Shockers cut the lead to 60-54 on Rashard Kelly’s follow shot. The Irish then reeled off the game’s deciding run, starting with Grant’s three to beat the shot clock. After a miss, Zach Auguste scored for a 65-54 lead. Jackson threw a lob from near half-court for an Auguste dunk, and Connaughton’s three finished a 10-2 run that gave Notre Dame a 70-56 lead and forced a Wichita State timeout with 6:18 to play.
Notre Dame bolted to a 20-8 lead by slicing through Wichita State’s defense for backdoor layups, slips off screens and three-pointers. The Irish made six of their first seven shots, three of them from behind the arc. Zach Auguste finished an early run with a dunk for a 15-5 lead. Pat Connaughton beat the Shockers for a backdoor layup and a 20-7 lead.
That burst left Wichita State coaches screaming for more pressure on the ball to disrupt Notre Dame’s passing lanes. Wichita State tightened its defense in all areas and the Irish cooled off to miss six of their next seven shots. Baker steadied the Shockers on offense and his fallback three over Connaughton cut the Irish lead to 23-20.
The Irish went up 29-22 after Wichita State missed four of five shots and VanVleet sensed a need. He started driving to the basket and drawing fouls to restart the offense. He scored Wichita State’s final eight points of the half, and the Shockers trailed 33-30.
VanVleet led Wichita State with 10 points and Baker and Carter each added nine. The Shockers shot 10 of 28 in the first half and missed four free throws.
Connaughton led the Irish with nine points and Jackson added eight. Notre Dame, after making six of seven shots, went 6 for 23 the rest of the half. After scoring 20 points in the first seven minutes, it scored 13 in the final 13.