Stillwater has become a place for ascendant stars on the Wichita State men’s basketball team to announce themselves.
In 2017, Landry Shamet did it with a career-high 30 points in the first flash of his NBA potential on the road. In 2019, a young Tyson Etienne made five three-pointers and scored 19 points to lead WSU to a key double-digit road win. On Wednesday, Ricky Council IV joined the club.
The 6-foot-6 freshman wing from Durham, North Carolina could not be stopped in crunch time, carrying Wichita State to the finish line in a 60-51 win over the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
“I just wanted to win the game, so I did what I had to do,” Council said. “It’s sad going on a two-hour bus ride home with a loss. You don’t want to do that, so I just wanted to win the game.”
To avoid a sad bus-ride home, Council made four straight shots and scored nine straight points for WSU in the final six minutes to turn a one-point deficit into a five-point lead in the final minute. Council finished with a game-high 17 points on 7 of 11 shooting, making all three of his three-pointers, to go along with seven rebounds, four assists, three steals and a block.
Perhaps the most impressive statistic of them all was Council’s plus-minus impact on the game: WSU crushed OSU 56-26 in his 29 minutes on the floor, while the Shockers lost the 11 minutes with Council on the bench 25-4.
“We see it every day in practice,” WSU coach Isaac Brown said. “He’s one of the best players in the country when it comes to creating shots off the dribble. He made some big-time moves and some big-time finishes that we really needed down the stretch.”
WSU didn’t shoot well (42.1% from the field, 35.3% on three-pointers and 54.5% from the foul line), lost the rebounding battle (37-33), committed 15 turnovers and its star player, Tyson Etienne, was limited to five points. But the Shockers continue to show a tremendous amount of sheer will in the face of adversity, as they improved to 7-2 in true road games under Brown by forcing Oklahoma State into a season-high 21 turnovers and holding the Cowboys to season-lows of 37.5% shooting and 51 points.
The Shockers (7-1) won their second straight true road game over a Power Five opponent and this one will almost certainly be a Quadrant 1 road win come March. Oklahoma State, which was averaging 81.3 points in its six wins, dropped to 6-2.
“The tougher, more resilient team won and unfortunately that wasn’t us,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton said. “It’s obviously hurtful to lose when you lose to your own identity. I’ve tried to build this program on toughness and resiliency and I think their will was just a little greater than ours tonight.”
What made Council’s takeover all the more impressive was that all four of his clutch baskets came in isolation.
It began when Council stopped eight feet from the basket, then hit a tough fade-away jumper to put WSU in front, 49-48 with 5:20 remaining, for the first time in the second half. Next came a clear-out for Council on a baseline out of bounds play, as he took one dribble backward and launched a three that curled in for a four-point lead.
When OSU rallied to trim WSU’s lead to one and switched its best on-ball defender, Isaac Likeleke, onto Council, the WSU freshman rose to the occasion once more. He took a dribble handoff that shot him to the right side of the floor, crossed over to get to his spot at the free throw line where he pump-faked Likekele, then rose up for an off-balanced jumper that he canned.
“By the time I switched onto (Council), I felt like he had already got it going,” said Likekele, who was tremendous in guarding Etienne. “He hit a very tough mid-range where I was in the air and then the second was just a great move. He’s a high talent. He did good tonight.”
Council saved his best for last, clearing the floor for a straight isolation against Likekele with WSU clinging to a one-possession lead and the final 60 seconds approaching. In the face of that kind of pressure, Council shook Likekele with a devastating crossover move that allowed him to stroll to the basket to give WSU a 56-51 lead with 1:11 remaining.
To deliver in the clutch on the road as a second-year player may seem like a tall task to outsiders. But to Council, who loves nothing more than seeking out buckets, he felt right at home down the stretch.
“Shoot, I was just playing my game,” Council said. “Humbly, it wasn’t nothing crazy, in my opinion. I was just getting to my spots and shooting. And then when they helped too much, I was dishing it. I was just playing my game, for real.”
It was a second straight dominant close to a road game by WSU on defense, as it outscored OSU 22-6 in the final nine-plus minutes. After limiting Missouri to a single field goal in the final 10 minutes, WSU did the same with Oklahoma State, limiting the Cowboys to 7.7% shooting from the field and forcing six turnovers in their final 19 possessions of the game.
Brown threw OSU for a loop by employing mostly zone defense, which in limiting OSU to 30.4% shooting in the second half. The zone defense also played a role in the Cowboys launching 21 three-pointers for their highest three-point rate (44%) of the season.
“I think it’s just a mindset with us,” WSU junior Dexter Dennis said. “This school has been known for its defense over the years and that’s something we try to illustrate every day and every game. We know our offense hasn’t been the best, so the one thing we know we can really hang our hats on is our defense. We’re trying to create more possessions for ourselves since our offense hasn’t really been flowing. We know our defense is our constant.”
Defense has certainly been the constant in WSU’s road success over the years, as the Shockers have won 75.2% of their road games in the last decade — second only to Gonzaga in the country.
Morris Udeze shook off a slow start to finish with 13 points on 14 shots, while Monzy Jackson brought his usual flair off the bench and had 10 points and four rebounds in 18 minutes. Point guard Craig Porter shot just 1 of 7 and committed five turnovers, but he also grabbed eight rebounds and finished with four assists and three steals.
Since reviving the series in 2016, the two teams have played five times the last six seasons and Wednesday marked the fifth straight time the road team has won. OSU (6-2) is slated to return to Wichita next season in the third year of the four-year series.
“This is huge, man, back-to-back wins against the SEC and Big 12,” Udeze said. “It’s going to help us big time at the end of the year with our NCAA Tournament run.”