Wichita State’s season ended with an abrupt thud on Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena, an 81-70 loss in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 to a Notre Dame team that made 14 of its first 16 field goals in the second half.
“Shot the cover off it, in reality,” Wichita State’s Ron Baker said. “Never seen a team shoot it like they (did Thursday).”
So maybe it’s a funny time to stop to savor what’s happened in Wichita the last three seasons, but there are at least two reasons to do it:
For one, that Final Four in 2013, the No. 1 seed and 35-0 start last year and beating Indiana and Kansas in the same weekend to advance here? Any one of those would have been something to cherish for a lifetime, as Baker called the KU win, and collectively they make for a sliver of Shocker history that will be hard to surpass.
For another, what now might be starting to feel like an entitlement could be fleeting, the end of an era lurking.
Coach Gregg Marshall will be courted, again, and maybe this time someone will dangle the right combination of program stature, money and job security to make for the offer he can’t refuse.
And Baker and backcourt counterpart Fred VanVleet, each juniors instrumental to the Shockers’ resurgence, will entertain whether it’s time to get paid to play.
“We’ll never have this team again,” VanVleet said. “Every year when you realize the finality of it, it hurts.”
VanVleet really was referring to seniors Darius Carter and Tekele Cotton as he spoke, but it funneled the conversation to the potential for bigger changes.
“I think our true fans will respect any decision made, if me or Ron decide to leave, if coach Marshall ends up taking another job,” he said. “Those are huge ‘ifs’ now, but if that was happening … I would hope that people would do nothing but respect the years and the blood, sweat and tears that have been poured into this program.”
Those questions remain weeks from resolution, of course, but they’re at the forefront sooner than anyone involved would like them to be because the Shockers just couldn’t restrain Notre Dame’s offense.
The Irish made six of their first seven field goals to seize an 18-5 lead to open the game, but that wasn’t where it was lost.
That came after the Shockers steadily whittled away at the lead, cutting it to 33-30 at halftime, and at last overtook ND 38-37 on a Darius Carter layup.
This was about the time the Shockers got Kansas to splinter on Sunday.
But Notre Dame was galvanized after one of the most well-spent timeouts in memory called by Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, who used it both to stop the onslaught and make reference to a similar situation against North Carolina in the ACC semifinal.
“Little did I know,” he said, “it would be another lightning strike.”
In a 19-second span, ND’s Demetrious Jackson hit two three-pointers around a missed three by Baker.
And everything about the dynamic of the game changed after what Marshall called a “barrage” made a mirage of Wichita State’s hopes.
“I’ve never seen a one-point lead get out of hand so quickly,” he said, “and it did tonight because of their fire power.”
Wichita State sustained that lead for all of 12 seconds, which was all of the time it led the entire game.
The better team won, advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1978.
And now Wichita State has to reconcile its future, starting with appreciating the present.
“I mean, (we are) one of the top teams in the country,” Marshall said. “So there’s no way you can be disappointed in this year. … I’m going back (to Wichita) with my head held high.”
Whether he’ll be planted for years to come is a matter of conjecture. But Marshall won’t move on a whim, and he won’t move just for money.
It would have to be a compelling and secure situation, and somewhere in the maze of scrawl on the grease-board in his office there’s probably a formula for exactly what it would take.
It’s a business, Baker said afterward, and he knows there’s a chance Marshall could go. And, of course, there’s a chance that he’ll leave and VanVleet, too.
Or they could all stay.
Either way, it’s a moment to stop and appreciate what they’ve all done.