Career-high 22 Points Leads Wichita State In Opener

By Paul Suellentrop

Craig Porter Jr. said he wants to let the work show.

He will have to this season for Wichita State, which will depend on him for almost everything as 12 newcomers make their way. Porter prepared for the season knowing all that.

On Monday, he started his senior season with a game in which the work certainly showed. He scored a career-high 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting to go with four assists, four rebounds and three steals in 20 minutes, 12 seconds of play.

Wichita State defeated Central Arkansas 79-55 in a season-opener that was never in doubt after a Porter-fueled 11-0 run to start the game.

The offense is his and he appears ready to go, continuing a progression in which he was a somewhat reluctant shooter in his injury-shortened 2020-21 and grew more assertive each season.

“Every day after practice I try to get up as many shots as I can,” Porter said. “It’s really me being more confident and having my teammates telling me to shoot it. Coaches, everybody, wants me to shoot it because they know my potential.”

Porter scored Wichita State’s first basket, stole a pass that led to his assist on a Kenny Pohto three and hit a short jumper to create a 7-0 lead. His rebound led to two Xavier Bell foul shots for a 9-0 lead.

The Shockers countered Central Arkansas’ switching defense by maneuvering to get a big man mismatched on Porter. He used his ball-handling and creative finishing to wreck that defense.

“You’ve just got to start driving the basketball,” Wichita State coach Isaac Brown said. “He did a great job of taking advantage of that and driving to the rim.”

Porter didn’t want a repeat of the exhibition game against NCAA Division II Newman. It took the Shockers well into the first half before they pulled away and then the Jets rallied to within eight points by halftime. The Shockers won easily, but Porter tried to set a different tone on Monday.

“I know my team is going to rely on me a lot,” he said. “In the past, we tend to get off to a slow start. Any way I can get off us to that good start, that’s what I tend to do.”

Porter’s work as point guard will get easier as his teammates learn the system. Center Quincy Ballard is off to a fast start as a threat who can help Porter on both ends of the court. Ballard, a transfer from Florida State, came off the bench to score 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He blocked two shots and grabbed five rebounds in 12 minutes, 41 seconds.

Ballard will do his scoring at the rim. On Monday, and in the exhibition game, he showed a lob threat that will make defenses pay attention. Porter’s plans for running ball screens with his new teammate feature putting defenders in a position where they must choose to stop Porter and let Ballard run to the rim, or guard Ballard and give Porter room to operate. If a third defender helps in the lane, a Shocker will often be open for a three-pointer.

“It takes a defense out of everything they have,” Porter said. “With his size and athleticism, you can honestly throw the ball anywhere you want. It’s going to hurt people all year long.”

Ballard scored nine of his points in the second half, seven straight in a stretch in which the Shocker extended their lead from 59-39 to 66-43.

“Second half, I turned it up,” Ballard said. “We started to execute more and started to run the floor and I started to get opportunities.”

If Ballard continues to score efficiently and guard the rim, those opportunities will increase.

“He has a great attitude,” Brown said. “He earned more minutes tonight. He can go upstairs and get the ball.”

Ballard’s dunks – and some others – will get a lot of attention.

Brown was most pleased with a defense that limited the Bears to 22-of-73 shooting, 4 of 30 from three-point range. Wichita State’s rebounding did not measure up to his expectations, however. The Bears grabbed 16 offensive rebounds and scored 13 second-chance points. In the second half, Brown pulled the starters after that unit allowed two straight offensive rebounds.

“We’re not giving up offensive rebounds,” Brown said. “That’s on me. We’ll get it cleaned up. You’ve got to check out.”

Paul Suellentrop writes about Wichita State athletics for university Strategic Communications. Story suggestion? Contact him at [email protected].