AfterShocks | 7/27/2022 11:21:00 PM
By Paul Suellentrop
Darral Willis pranced down the Koch Arena tunnel, yelling “Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’re going for the milly.” James Woodard followed, surrounded by family, talked into a cell phone and repeated “We guard. We guard.”
Willis and Woodard got it right. The AfterShocks are two wins away from splitting $1 million from The Basketball Tournament, and in large part because they play defense in a way few can match. Mix in a red-hot shooting night and the AfterShocks are 4-0 and headed to the TBT semifinals for the first time.
The AfterShocks, carried by 12 three-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 backing down now,” AfterShocks forward Markis McDuffie said. “We’ve got to through there and get that milly.”
Before leaving for Dayton, the AfterShocks gave the Shocker fans one last thrill. They circled the arena to high five and hug, soaking up the cheers from fans. Those fans lined up almost three hours before the tip. Those fans wore their black and yellow, rolling in shirts and hats they proudly wore to home games and St. Louis and Fort Worth and to NCAA Tournament locales around the country. Those fans watched the former Shockers come in as young college athletes, lived and died with them for years, and are now watching them as pros.
“Tonight was amazing,” Willis said. “I could hear every single one of the fans in the stands. That’s how loud it was.”
AFTERSHOCKS WIN‼️ AFTERSHOCKS WIN‼️ AFTERSHOCKS WIN‼️
— TBT (@thetournament) July 28, 2022
The AfterShocks won’t take all of the ramped-up Shocker crowd to Ohio. They will take their desire to play defense, their common Shocker background and a versatile roster. Even down three players – starters Zach Brown (injury) and Tyrus McGhee and reserve Shaq Morris – the AfterShocks had answers for Gutter Cat Gang.
McDuffie scored 17 points, including two three-pointers in the second quarter that cut into a seven-point deficit. McDuffie hit four of six threes to help the AfterShocks go 12 of 18 from behind the arc.
“That’s unbelievable,” McDuffie said.
— TBT (@thetournament) July 28, 2022
Willis scored 15 points and made all three of his three-pointers. Rashard Kelly handed out six assists and took on critical ball-handling duties in the fourth quarter. Woodard recorded five assists and nine points, including the game-winning layup.
“The chemistry is already there,” Willis said. “They tend to find me in the right spots.”
The AfterShocks didn’t dominate the Gutter Cats with their defense as they did in earlier games. In the fourth quarter, however, 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 clinching layup came after a steal by Kelly. A dunk by McDuffie after a traveling call made it 69-65.
“Big ups to these guys, the way they sit down and lock in and defend,” coach Zach Bush said. “There’s 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 came out on a July night to watch, working for them is the only acceptable response.
“It’s hard to go out there and not play hard,” McDuffie said. “They yell for everything you do.”
The AfterShocks, quarterfinal losers (92-63) to Florida TNT in Dayton last summer, took another step to get to the semifinals. The additions of Willis and Woodard to the roster gave them offensive juice without sacrificing defense. The core of Conner Frankamp, Samajae Haynes-Jones, Kelly, 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, this team had an opportunity to win TBT. On Wednesday, the AfterShocks kept that belief alive.
“We’re in a money tournament,” Bush said. “We took care of business. Now it gets real. Now it gets tough.”
Paul Suellentrop covers Wichita State Athletics and the American Athletic Conference for university Strategic Communications. Story suggestion? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.