Aftershocks | 27.07.2022 23:21:00
from Paul Suellentrop
Darral Willis lunged down the Koch Arena tunnel, yelling “Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’re going for the milly.” James Woodard followed, surrounded by family, spoke into a cell phone and repeated “We guard.
Willis and Woodard got it right. The AfterShocks are two wins away from taking home $1 million from the Basketball Tournament, and that’s largely because they play defense in a way that few can match. Mix in a hot shooting night and the AfterShocks are 4-0 and headed to the TBT Semifinals for the first time.
The AfterShocks, led by 12 3-pointers, defeated the Gutter Cat Gang 74-67 on Wednesday in front of 4,569 fans in a TBT quarterfinal. The AfterShocks play either Florida TNT or Americana for Autism in a semifinal at 5 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) in Dayton, Ohio.
“No recall now,” AfterShocks conveys Marquis McDuffie said. “We have to go over there and get that mile.”
Before heading to Dayton, AfterShocks gave Shocker fans one last thrill. They circled the arena to five and embraced, soaking up the cheers from the fans. Those fans lined up almost three hours before tip-off. Those fans wore their black and yellow, rocking the shirts and hats they proudly sported at home and St. Louis games. Those fans saw the former Shockers come in as young college athletes, lived and died with them for years, and are now watching them as professionals.
“Tonight was great,” Willis said. “I could hear every single one of the fans in the stands. That’s how loud it was.”
THE HITLESS WIN‼️ THE HITLESS WIN‼️ THE HITLESS WON‼️
— TBT (@thetournament) July 28, 2022
AfterShocks won’t bring the entire Shocker crowd to Ohio. They will take their desire to play defense, their shared Shocker background and a versatile roster. Even after three players – starters Zach Brown (injury) and Tyrus McGhee and backup Shaq Morris – the AfterShocks had answers for the Gutter Cat Gang.
McDuffie scored 17 points, including two 3-pointers in the second quarter that cut a seven-point deficit. McDuffie hit four of six threes to help the AfterShocks go 12 of 18 from behind the arc.
“This is unbelievable,” McDuffie said.
— TBT (@thetournament) July 28, 2022
Willis scored 15 points and made all three of his 3-pointers. Rashard Kelly dished out six assists and picked up critical ball-handling duties in the fourth quarter. Woodard recorded five assists and nine points, including the game-winning performance.
“The chemistry is already there,” Willis said. “They tend to find me in the right places.”
The AfterShocks didn’t dominate the Gutter Cats with their defense like they did in previous games. However, in the fourth quarter, the AfterShocks kept up the pressure and used stops to pull away. They held the Gutter Cats to 4-of-11 shooting in the final period and forced three turnovers, two of which the AfterShocks turned into baskets.
Woodard’s layup came after a steal by Kelly. A dunk by McDuffie after a traveling call made it 69-65.
“Big kudos to these guys, the way they sit, close and defend,” the coach Zach Bush said. “There are a lot of teams in the tournament that don’t want to do that.”
In those moments, McDuffie credited the fans for pushing and lifting the AfterShocks. When almost 5,000 fans turned out to watch on a July night, work for them is the only acceptable answer.
“It’s hard to go out there and not play hard,” McDuffie said. “They yell at everything you do.”
The AfterShocks, quarterfinal losers (92-63) to Florida TNT in Dayton last summer, took another step toward the semifinals. The additions of Willis and Woodard to the roster gave them offensive juice without sacrificing defense. The essence of Conner Frankamp, Samajae Haynes-JonesKelly, Brown and McDuffie returned for another run.
After Monday’s win over Bleed Green, coach Zach Bush told the team that he understood if players had commitments that took them off the roster. However, he reminded them that this team had a shot at winning the TBT. On Wednesday, the AfterShocks kept that belief alive.
“We’re on a money tour,” Bush said. “We took care of business. Now it gets real. Now it gets hard.”
Paul Suellentrop covers Wichita State Athletics and the American Athletic Conference for University Strategic Communications. Story hint? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.