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2015 NCAA Tournament recap: Wichita State overrun by Notre Dame offense, team effort

Wichita State couldn't stop the freight train that was the Notre Dame offense in the second half, ending the NCAA Tournament run by the Shockers.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Darius Carter hit a jumper three minutes into the second half to give Wichita State its first lead of the game. It came after overcoming a 13-point deficit; it came after a charge by Wichita State led by Fred Van Vleet, who seems to always be auditioning for bigger and better things.

But what came after that lead had the stomachs of every Wichita State fan turning and churning.

This came after:

You want to say there was a bright spot in that mess, that maybe there was something that Wichita State could take away from all of this. You want to believe that there was some redeeming quality that Gregg Marshall could take into next season and build something better from.

Play angry? Wichita State already does that. Maybe watching the game film of this 81-70 loss could inspire a team to play ... what is more intense than angry? Irate? Incensed? Berserk?

But Marshall won't want that. His teams have always been about controlled and focused anger. It is more about focusing that anger into a white hot heat like the sun focused through a magnifying glass onto some ants on the sidewalk. He makes the opponents fear being the ants.

Notre Dame didn't act like ants against the Shockers. Rather they were the giants on the floor. They played their cards perfectly.

When Tekele Cotton was given the task of shutting down Jerian Grant, Mike Brey told his best shooter -- his best player -- not to shoot the ball. Grant went into full distribute mode, and while Cotton held him scoreless for the first half, he helped find his teammates who were freed up to ruin the Wichita State day.

And while Grant would still find a way to put the dagger into the hearts of Wichita State fans, with two amazing shots as the shot clock struck one, in the second half, this win belonged to everyone else on the Notre Dame team. Pat Connaughton had 16 points and 10 rebounds. Demetrius Jackson was unstoppable, shooting 4-for-5 from 3-point range and scoring 20 points. Steve Vasturia scored 15 and Zach Auguste tied that mark with a perfect 6-for-6 from the floor.

If you told Marshall that he would hold Notre Dame's best player to just nine points, he probably would have thought he had a win in the bag. He would have no way to fathom the 11 assists and the games by the supporting cast.

There is no way he could conceive that Notre Dame would take advantage of his own supporting cast so terribly. Evan Wessel, who was superb on defense against Kansas and Perry Ellis, wasn't quick enough against Vasturia. Everyone was outsized by Connaughton who could step back and shoot with ease against the smaller Shocker defenders.

When Zach Brown or Rashard Kelly or Bush Wamukota were in the game, their men became a target for the Notre Dame offense. They just couldn't anticipate the cuts, or the screens, or really anything that the Irish put up against them.

This was by no means a great game from the Wichita State defense as a whole. They forced just 11 turnovers from Notre Dame. The 75 percent shooting in the second half gave Notre Dame an effective field goal percentage for the game of 63.9 percent, a performance bettered by only one opponent this season for Wichita State.

That was the late January loss to Northern Iowa, the only other game where Wichita State looked totally outgunned this year. Wichita State had a chance to get back at the Panthers. They will have no such chance to redo this matchup with the Irish.

It was almost as if Notre Dame had watched the game film of the game against Northern Iowa and had just executed everything better. The Shockers were able to score better against the Irish, but this game started moving too fast for Wichita State to keep up and reel in the Irish.

Van Vleet tried, scoring 25 points, and putting on a show as he did against Indiana. He tired late in the second half as the game seemed to be getting out of hand. He made a beautiful steal in the backcourt while no one was looking and cut the lead to eight. It was the last time the Shockers would sniff Notre Dame.

Wichita State would not find the net for almost four minutes in the last quarter of the game, letting Notre Dame pour it on.

So ends the career of Darius Carter, who managed to have a great game inside against a taller Notre Dame team, just as he has against multiple teams and players who have a few inches on him. His 22 points and eight rebounds marked one of his best games of the year.

So ends the career of Tekele Cotton, a man who will leave a big hole in the Wichita State defense that will not be easy to fill. No longer will Marshall have a guy who will pursue the guy wearing the number he was given like a wolf striking his prey. When everyone was looking at the weak numbers for Grant on the night, before the assist total went through the roof, they were looking at the wrong guy. That was all Tekele Cotton.

Marshall will have a long offseason ahead of him, and will have to consider long and hard the offer that will come from Alabama, something that the Crimson Tide were not shy about broadcasting before this Sweet 16 game. If he goes, these Shockers will never be the same, and you wonder that will mean to Ron Baker and Van Vleet. If he stays he has to replan how this Wichita State team will execute next season. Will the big men that came off the bench this season step up to fill Carter's shoes? Will Markis McDuffie be ready to contribute if they can't?

But tonight is about this season still, and Marshall and the Shockers need to be proud of what they were able to accomplish. They finish 30-5, off yet another regular season title, and have made three straight NCAA Tournament appearances. They have given people a reason to know who Wichita State is. They have created something that can continue to build in Kansas.

They proved that with a Final Four run, and an undefeated season, and a trip back to the Sweet 16 including wins over Indiana and Kansas. This team is just the beginning of what could be the next great, decades-long contender in college basketball.

Wichita State just ran into a better team Thursday night.