I'm almost amazed that the sounds of Koch Arena early Tuesday morning didn't awaken the entire city of Wichita. So loud you couldn't hear the person next to you yelling into your ear, Koch arena rocked with the sounds of a victorious Wichita State team.
It started the second the doors were opened to students. At approximately 10:21 pm Monday night the students flooded Koch arena's East entrance, frantically scanning their passes and sprinting to their (hopefully) front row seats. As the lines streamed through students and other fans stopped for a free energy drink to keep them going. Although, the adrenaline of one person fueled another, osmosis in full effect.
As the crowd grew so did the tension, the electricity, and the sound. Whistles and cheers thrown back and forth across the arena, waves of sound cresting with the dunks and falling with the near misses. The Roundhouse was ready to erupt and soon it did.
What seemed like an interminable intro gave away to the loudest swell of deafening cheers. As the final cue was given and the thin cylinder unfurled, the crowd went berserk. The Final Four banner, with its peach emblazoned in the background, reminded fans of just how special the 2012-13 season had been. Amazing how one banner can draw so much emotion that Shockers point guard Fred Van Vleet said he got chills. With that banner looking on the Shockers truly went to work on their new year.
Part of it was big-state jitters but for whatever other reason the Shockers' first half offense just wasn't working well. Van Vleet led the way with some amazing plays as usual. His drive so nimble and his touch so light it's like the defenders never see or feel him driving the lane.
Amazingly the Shockers' defense seems to have gotten better despite the changed defensive rules. A beautiful press by the Shockers led to a Van Vleet steal and lay-in to give the Shocks a 3-point advantage. A blocked shot by Ron Baker, his second on the night at that point, set up another Van Vleet drive that looked to be the end of the half. However the Hilltoppers managed to sneak a three ball in before the break making it just a slim 30-28 lead for Wichita State.
In the second half the Shockers seemed to match the vibe of the Wichita State faithful in the stands. Baker opened up the scoring with his only field goal of the game. His 3-pointer ignited an 11-0 run which was highlighted by a Kadeem Coleby alley oop. That gave the Shocks a 13 point lead and they'd never trail again.
The offense finally found its rhythm, Coleby continued to stride and Tekele Cotton provided the exclamation point with a steal and dunk to make the final 66-49.
Coach Gregg Marshall appeared in the media room quicker than he ever had before. It was after 2 a.m. and Marshall spoke so rapidly you could almost see the caffeine coursing through his veins, the adrenaline pumping out of his skin.
He reiterated how good of a team Western Kentucky is and how this win will be huge for the Shockers as the season goes on. He praised the Shocker faithful for 'coming out in droves' and being 'raucous.' He bemoaned his forward's inability to rebound and lamented the first half offense. His smirk appeared early on when he made a joke about the Eagle's Paul Suellentrop 'hobbling in' late because he's on crutches. Marshall's smile only reappeared when he was leaving the room, to go celebrate his team's 17-point win that was played out on national television. A smile that had a little something more behind it.
"There's many many things I already know we can get better at," said Marshall in his final answer of the press conference. And as he walked out smiling and giddy, you could feel the promise this season holds for Wichita State.