Nothing really was what the Cougars or their fans expected on Tuesday.
Cindy Lloyd, who lives in Burlington, was at the game with her daughter, Lindsay, a WSU graduate from 2000. Lindsay Lloyd now calls Hoboken, N.J. home, just a subway ride away from Madison Square Garden. The mother and daughter were among an estimated 250 WSU fans who watched the game following a pre-function at a nearby Irish bar.
"I was here visiting my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter and the Cougs made the NIT semifinals, so my daughter got tickets," Cindy Lloyd said. "It's pretty cool to see them here. I just wish they played better."
Talk about an understatement. This 75-44 thrashing was a laugher of the highest order.
"I was so psyched when I realized they were coming here to New York," Lindsay Lloyd said. "I got up the morning after they won (defeating Northwestern last week) to get here and bought the tickets. You don't get many chances to see the Cougs play in the Garden. It's wild. I haven't seen a game in person in years. I'm still trying to figure out what a Shocker is."
A Wichita State fan explained that the nickname comes from the wheat fields of Kansas at the turn of the century in 1900, when wheat was harvested by hand without any instruments like a sickle.
"They would bundle it up and stack it," the unidentified Shocker fan said. "It was called a shock of wheat. We were first called the Wheat Shockers and now we're just the Shockers."
And just a very good basketball team, too.
About the only thing that went right for Washington State in Tuesday night's NIT semifinal happened right after halftime.
Wichita State held a 36-19 advantage after the intermission and was poised to continue the destruction of the Cougars for the remainder of the lopsided debacle. The Shockers scored the first points of the half, but the scoreboard didn't register the basket, so Wichita State's score remained at 36 for almost a minute and a half before anyone took notice.
But the scoreboard operator corrected his mistake, gave the Shockers the points they deserved and then the massacre ensued.
The final margin was 31 points but it wasn't that close at all. The more athletic and more physical Shockers stuck it to the Cougs in the worst way, in every way, in a place known as "The World's Most Famous Arena."
"I was excited to play at Madison Square Garden," said Cougar sophomore guard Reggie Moore. "I was disappointed in the way they stuck it to us."
"That didn't feel too good," head coach Ken Bone said. "It was a tough game to be a part of. We're much better than we showed tonight."
One has to hope so.
The Cougars (22-13) misfired on their first six shots from the floor, turned the ball over twice and watched star guard Klay Thompson pick up two silly fouls in the first 4:12 seconds. But they only trailed, 7-0, at that point. Hope still reigned supreme.
"I felt that we still had time and we would be alright if we could just get into a flow," Bone said. "I wasn't too concerned."
Bone should have been, because the Shockers (28-8) were ready to run the Cougs straight out of the building.
Moore hit a jumper to cut the lead to 7-2, but that was simply cosmetic. After the two teams turned the ball over back and forth for a few possessions, Garrett Stutz began the game of his life by nailing a 3-point field goal from 22 feet out, giving the Shockers a 10-2 lead with 13:47 remaining in the first half. Stutz began a run where he scored seven straight points en route to a game-high and career-high 24 points and 11 rebounds.
Once the Cougars fell behind by 10 points, they never drew closer. The lead just continued to build and build. It was 36-19 at the half, but the Shockers kept pulling away. Graham Hatch hit an acrobatic reverse layup that was actually well defended to push the lead to 42-20. Stutz had a rebound basket, making it 44-21. David Kyles made the play off the night, a spectacular alley-oop slam that served as the exclamation point, pushing the lead to 54-28 with 14:28 left. It kept getting uglier and uglier.
"I've seen our guys persevere before," Bone said. "I thought all we needed to do was hit a couple shots, but that never happened."
Through it all, Thompson, who set a new single season scoring record this season with 727 points, could never get a rhythm. He had the two early fouls, then drew his third before halftime on a close offensive foul. The 6-foot-6 Thompson, third on the all-time WSU scoring list, picked the worst time to have his worst performance of the season.
"Picking up that third foul was really stupid on my part," said Thompson, who tied a season-low by finishing with just six points on just 1-of-10 shooting. "I just didn't play well. I really thought we all could play much better."
Thompson's other six-point effort on the season came Feb. 5 at Oregon State.
"We depend on Klay too much," Bone said. "He had the two fouls before we scored a point. We weren't able to be as aggressive as we wanted to be because of Klay. They took a lot out of him and when they did, they took a lot out of us."
There was another startling statistic about the Cougars' performance. They failed to make a single 3-point field goal, misfiring on all 10 attempts. Thompson clanked five of those from long range.
"I can't even put words on that," Bone said. "It's been a long time since Washington State didn't hit a three. We depend on that quite a bit."
"We missed a lot of shots," Moore said. "We rarely play a game without making a three. It's unreal."
Not a single Cougar player reached double figures in scoring. It was that bad. They shot just 29.4 percent (15 of 51) from the floor overall.
Even the Shockers were, er, shocked by their performance. "It's about as well as we've played all year," Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall said. "We seem to be getting better as the season goes on. We were very respectful of Washington State coming in. I'm very surprised by this. I was as nervous as I've been all year preparing for this game. I watched films last night of this team kill Gonzaga and methodically beat Washington twice. I had more anxiety watching Klay Thompson play. He's a first-round NBA guy if he chooses to be. We just played very well."
Marshall said that he felt a little better when he walked through the hallowed halls of Madison Square Garden and saw pictures of the New York Knicks' 1969-70 NBA championship team. On that team were Dave Stallworth and Nate Bowman, both of whom played at Wichita State.
Thompson didn't want to speculate if this was his last performance as a Cougar. He's enjoyed a great career, averaging 22 points per game this season, earning All-Pac 10 honors for a second straight year and etching his place as one of the greatest players in WSU history.
There has been talk of Thompson entering the NBA Draft.
"It's way too early to tell," Thompson said. "I just want to try to enjoy my time with my teammates a little longer. This was the worst loss we ever had, because it was on a bigger stage. It really hurts."
A PICTURE PAINTS A THOUSAND WORDS