FORT WORTH, Texas – Wichita State battled back o defeat South Florida, 68-67, in quarterfinal action at the Air Force Reserve American Athletic Conference Championship on Friday afternoon at Dickies Arena.
Tyson Etienne scored a game-high 20 points for the top-seeded Shockers (16-4), who trailed by a dozen with 12:26 to play but found a way to advance. Alterique Gilbert added 12 points and Morris Udeze grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds.
The Shockers will take on either No. 4 seed SMU or No. 5 seed Cincinnati in Saturday semifinal round (2 p.m. CT, ESPN2).
Etienne made two free throws with eight seconds left to put WSU in front by a point, and Udeze drew a charge on the other end to deny the Bulls a potential game-winning shot with four seconds to play.
Michael Durr paced No. 8 seed USF (9-13), which out-shot (45-38%) and out-rebounded (41-33) the Shockers.
WSU finished plus-eight on turnovers (12-4), committing just one after halftime.
USF jumped out to leads of 13-2 and 23-13 in the first half. WSU answered with a 17-2 push and led by five points near the 4:00-mark, before USF finished the half on a 14-0 run.
The Bulls expanded a 41-32 halftime lead to 55-43 with 12:26 to play.
USF made 21-of-40 shots to start the game, including 9-of-18 from three, but made just 5-of-21 the rest of the way.
WSU’s bench turned the tide with energy plays.
Reserve forward Clarence Jackson scored all eight of his points in a span of just over two minutes, sinking back-to-back threes along with a layup to give the Shockers new life.
Craig Porter Jr. scored two baskets and assisted on another. In one sequence, he blocked a shot in the paint then sprinted out to intercept a perimeter pass for an easy transition layup.
Dexter Dennis made a three and Gilbert nailed back-to-back from deep. The last cut the USF lead to one, 65-64, with 5:08 to go.
That was the last Shocker field goal of the day.
WSU outscored USF 4-2 over the final 5:08, generating defensive stops on six of the Bulls’ last seven possessions.
Dennis made two free throws with 2:45 left to give the Shockers their first lead of the second half, 66-65.
Durr’s jumper pushed the Bulls back in front with 2:31 to go.
WSU came up empty on its next three possessions but made four-straight stops.
Isaac Brown put the ball in the hands of Etienne, the conference’s co-player of the year, with less than 20 seconds to go and the Shockers still down a point.
Etienne drew a foul in traffic and converted two free throws to give the Shockers the lead for good with just under nine seconds on the clock.
Collins quickly counter-attacked for USF, but bowled over Udeze in the center of the lane on his way to the hoop.
The Shockers again put the ball in the hands of Etienne, who had made all four free throw attempts to that point. The sophomore missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with three seconds left, and USF called its last timeout to set up a potential winner.
Instead, Caleb Murphy’s half-court heave was too strong, and the Shockers survived.
- WSU improved to 9-1 in games decided by five-points-or-less. Those nine wins are second nationally behind Oklahoma State, which is 10-4 following Thursday’s Big 12 tournament win over West Virginia).
- WSU has reached the semifinals in 11-straight conference tournaments going back to 2010. The Shockers improved to 3-0 in AAC quarterfinal games.
- WSU improves to 4-2 in AAC tournament games.
- The Shockers defeated USF for the third time this year and have won five-straight in the series.
- AAC No. 1 seeds are 6-0 in quarterfinal games.
- Udeze’s 11 rebounds were a new career-high, eclipsing the 10 he grabbed Mar. 3 at Tulane.
- Etienne recorded his 10th game of 20-or-more points.
- The Shockers are 5-3 this year when trailing at halftime. Friday’s nine-point deficit was the largest they’ve overcome this year. Prior to that, it was a seven-point halftime hole in their win at USF back on Dec. 22.