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Wichita's Stutz saves best game for MSG

NEW YORK -- Garrett Stutz knew he had been having a great night, but didn’t know the specific numbers.

Then, with about two minutes left in Wichita State’s 75-44 drubbing of Washington State on Tuesday night in the NIT semifinals, Shockers Director of Basketball Operations Dominic Okon leaned over to inform Stutz of some good news.

Wichita State’s reserve junior center had scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against the Cougars, a career-high in points and his first double-double output of the season.

“I was like that’s pretty cool,” Stutz said. “That’s really cool.”

In his first game at Madison Square Garden, Stutz had the best night of his career with his double-double performance as he guided the Shockers to the NIT final. Stutz came just one rebound shy of matching his career high in boards, but still totaled his most rebounds of the season. Wichita State (28-8) will play Alabama and try to win its first NIT title.

“I can’t really explain it,” Stutz said. “It was just a good feeling going into the game, being in New York and Madison Square Garden and the shots were falling tonight.”

Before playing in the tournament, Stutz had only seen Madison Square Garden from the outside. The Kansas City product came into the Big Apple with relatives in the summer of 2002 while his family took a vacation here.

Coming into the game, Stutz averaged a modest 6.7 points and 3.3 rebounds in 14.2 minutes. In his last four games, he had scored a combined 20 points and hauled in 11 rebounds.

Playing inside the World’s Most Famous Arena brought out the best in the 7-foot, 248-pound center.

He took over the first half, scoring 18 of his 24 points on 7-of-9 shooting. He scored on dunks, layups, putbacks and tips, showing some nimble footwork around the basket. He even added a 3-pointer, just his eighth of the season.

Stutz said great ball movement by the guards enabled him to get into his great position down low, where he took advantage.

“They pushed me off the block a couple of times, but for the most part [I got good positioning],” Stuz said. “That’s the way our offense works and it runs off deep post touches.”

Washington State, which had some physical big men playing in the post, did not have any answer for Stutz, who “was just a beast tonight,” according to Shockers head coach Gregg Marshall. He finished 10-of-13 from the field and scored nearly a point per minute in his 25 minutes on the court. His 18 first half points all came in the final 13:47 of the half.

Stutz didn’t play much in the second half with his team nursing a consistent double-digit lead and the Cougars presenting very little opposition.

“When it comes tournament time and we play in a tournament, Stutz always steps up and plays great games,” Wichita State senior forward Gabe Blair said. “Tournament time is Stutz time for me an I expect Stutz to have a good game in the tournament.

“Tonight was his night.”

After the game, Stutz didn’t gloat or boast about his accomplishments, instead just smiling, finding time to praise some of his teammates' performances.

He called playing inside Madison Square Garden “a real good feeling,” taking notice of the litany of pictures in the hallways of famous athletes and entertainers who have performed in the spotlight inside the legendary building.

Tuesday night, Stutz got his first chance to showcase his talents to New York City and he didn’t disappoint.

“It’s a memory I’ll have for the rest of my life,” Stutz said. “When I’m old and I got grey hairs I’ll be telling my kids how I played there and played great and all that. I’ll be able to share a lot of memories and stories with them.”