Two words guaranteed to make any Shocker basketball fan feel queasy: “Away Game.” While the Shockers always have a chance to win in the Roundhouse, Wichita State entered the 2001/02 season not having won a road game since Feb. 19, 2000, a 67-66 win at Drake.
On Nov. 19, after 609 days without a road win, that streak came to an end when WSU topped Radford, 82-81, at the Top of the World Classic in Fairbanks, Alaska.
The Shockers, who weren’t shooting particularly well, trailed for most of the game, but freshman guard Randy Burns scored 11 of his 15 points in the game’s final three minutes, and WSU managed to capture the lead when it mattered the most, in the final seconds. A monkey was off WSU’s back. Or was it?
WSU had opened the tournament the day prior with a loss to Delaware, 62-47. The day after beating Radford, WSU lost to Old Miss, 80-68.
The streak may have ended, but losing away games was continuing. Still, things weren’t all that bleak.
In going 1-2 to open the current campaign, the Shockers had played three tough road games, two against teams (Delaware and Ole Miss) that were winning games in last March’s NCAA Tournament.
Not bad experience for a team where freshmen outnumber upperclassmen 7-6. Freshmen Burns and Rob Kampman had led the Shockers in scoring and rebounding respectively in two of three games. Even better for the Shockers, they would be playing their next two games at home.
“Home Game”: two words that will make any Shocker fan smile. After returning from Fairbanks, the Shockers quickly improved to 3-2. WSU shot the lights out in Henry Levitt for consecutive victories, scoring a total of 199 points against Georgia Southern and Texas-Arlington. The Shockers again received quality play from their freshmen, but it was senior Terrell Benton who had a career-high with 32 points against Texas-Arlington.
The game against Arlington broke another long streak for WSU: it was the first time a Shocker team had broken the century mark since defeating Colgate 101-87 on Dec. 2, 1989.
After gaining confidence at home, WSU set its sights on the biggest road test of the early season, a showdown in Stillwater with the then 14th ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys. WSU was a huge underdog going in, giving up 23 points in Vegas, as the Cowboys were riding tall in the saddle at 7-0.
But the Shockers gave the Cowboys a jolt, taking the game right down to the wire before falling to OSU, 61-59. WSU nearly upset the Cowboys when C.C. McFall’s three-point attempt bounced off the rim and into the arms of an OSU defender in the final seconds.
Four days after losing in Stillwater, the Shockers again found themselves on the road in Big XII country. This time the venue was Manhattan, where the Wildcats at 4-1 were almost as hot as the Cowboys. WSU came in as seven-point underdogs to K-State, whose one loss had been by two points against Ole Miss (67-65) — a team that coasted past the Shockers in Alaska.
There was also the question of whether or not WSU could bring the intensity it would take to win on the road after suffering such an emotional loss days earlier.
K-State hit three three-pointers in a row to open up an early lead, but the freshmen-ladened Shockers kept their composure and answered with a 13-point run of their own. By halftime WSU led by eight.
The Wildcats, who have not had a losing home record since the 1950s, fought back in the second half, to take the lead 47-43 with eight minutes left. The Shocker offense was struggling as the team’s two captains, McFall and Benton, were held without a bucket between the two for the entire game.
But Troy Mack, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds, made up for the vacuum left by Benton and McFall’s silence at the rim, as he scored seven straight points to ignite a 12-0 run that put the Shockers ahead for good. Kampman hit a key three-point bucket with four minutes remaining, and the Shockers finished the game shooting free throws to win 65-56.
“Last year I thought we were ‘fool’s gold’. We were 5-1, and I was telling everyone not to get too excited,” said coach Turgeon after the game. “But this year, I’m telling you, we’ve got something to get excited about.”