WICHITA, Kan. -- Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall has never been shy about proclaiming the exploits of his team.
But after the No. 24 Shockers outlasted East Carolina 75-69 on Wednesday, he was not in the mood to do so.
"It wasn't anything to shout about or call home," Marshall said flatly. "We didn't play our best."
Erik Stevenson scored 10 of his 17 points after halftime for the Shockers (12-1, 1-0 American), who trailed midway through the second half thanks to East Carolina's Jayden Gardner scoring 20 of his 29 points after halftime.
Gardner, who entered the game leading the American in scoring at 20.7 points a game, was 12 of 20 from the floor and had a game-high 10 rebounds.
"His 15-footer is almost automatic," Marshall said. "He was able to get it a little more than we wanted."
Wichita State shot out to a 9-0 lead, and East Carolina coach Joe Dooley admitted his team "got frazzled."
But Gardner was not going to let them get blown out.
"It's fun to play in an atmosphere like this," Gardner said. "Once guys got adjusted to ir, we settled down and played well."
The Pirates came all the way back to take a 45-44 lead on Bitumba Baruti's jumper in the lane with 12:46 remaining.
"I thought we weren't playing aggressively enough," Marshall said. "That's one of the reasons they could keep scoring."
Stevenson scored seven points over the next three minutes to push Wichita State back ahead 53-47.
"We have a lot of veteran guards," Stevenson said, "and I think that helps us from getting too down about losing the lead, especially at home. We know we can turn that momentum around."
East Carolina had two final-minute possessions down four or less that resulted in a turnover and a blocked shot, helping Wichita State seal the win.
"Ill-timed turnovers really hurt us," Dooley said.
DENNIS ON THE BENCH
Wichita State sophomore Dexter Dennis returned to the bench after taking a leave of absence from the team for personal reasons on Dec. 21. Dennis, a member of the American Athletic Conference's all-freshman team last season, had seen his playing time decline during the season, including a season-low 12 minutes against Oklahoma on Dec. 12.
Dennis left the team early for the holiday break and was not in attendance for Sunday's game against Abilene Christian. He arrived at Wednesday's game during halftime and wore street clothes.
"He flew in this morning," Marshall said. "We are going to talk this afternoon. He told me he's ready to go."
The Shockers were 16 of 29 from the free throw line, which has been an issue.
Wichita State has shot less than 70 percent from the free throw line in seven games and less than 60 percent in four of those.
"It could be contagious," Marshall said. "Maybe once we start missing, people are pressing."
East Carolina: The Pirates were competitive as heavy underdogs and now have three straight home games in the most favorable part of the schedule
Wichita State: The Shockers weren't pretty but kept their momentum heading into two significant home games
East Carolina: The Pirates host South Florida on Tuesday.
Wichita State: The Shockers host Mississippi on Saturday.
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