Kelly does unheralded work for Wichita State

Rashard Kelly of Wichita State and Matt Heldt of Marquette compete for a loose ball in the second half. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Rashard Kelly of Wichita State and Matt Heldt of Marquette compete for a loose ball in the second half. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

LAHAINA — Already one of Gregg Marshall’s favorite players, Rashard Kelly made his coach especially happy late in the first half of Wichita State’s win Tuesday.

With little more than three minutes left before halftime and the Shockers leading Marquette by three points in the semifinals of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational at the Lahaina Civic Center, Golden Eagles guard Sacar Anim stole the ball and appeared headed for a breakaway layup.

Kelly, a 6-foot-7 senior forward, ran Anim down and blocked the shot. After Anim grabbed the rebound and went up again, Kelly was there for another block.

“No one else sprinted,” Marshall said after Wichita State, No. 6 in The Associated Press poll, won 80-66.

“That’s my favorite play of the year thus far. That was a tremendous play, and it epitomizes Rashard Kelly and hopefully our program.”

Kelly’s gritty final stat line included six points, a second straight 10-rebound performance, eight assists and three blocks.

“No, seriously, we’ve got to create a mindset, play angry,” Kelly said. “That’s been our motto around Wichita State. Somebody’s just got to fall in love with doing the dirty work.

“I don’t want to be the superstar, the highlight-type player. I just want to get the job done. So if I’m the robber of the team, I’ll take it. I’ll be the Draymond (Green), the bad guy.”

Kelly’s biggest individual award came last season, and it was a fitting one for a player with his approach — he was named to the Missouri Valley Conference all-bench team.

“He’s an everyday guy. He never takes days off,” said sophomore teammate Aus­tin Reaves. “He comes to work every day, practice. I mean, it’s hard to practice five times a week, and as hard as we do. So he’s an everyday guy. He does the little things. He’s not worried about his points. He rebounds, takes charges and does the little things. Like coach says all the time: ‘Those little things matter.’ “

When asked what a Maui championship would mean for the program — Wichita State will face No. 13 Notre Dame today for the title — Kelly first had a question for Marshall.

“Coach, you had a championship here yet?” Kelly asked.

Marshall replied: “I’ve never had a championship here, Rashard.”

Kelly then smiled when he said, “All right. It would mean the world to us.”

“There you go,” Marshall said, laughing.

Kelly has played 110 games for the Shockers in his career — 31 shy of the school record — but his start on Tuesday was just his 19th.

“I’m glad I contributed. I’m glad we won,” said Kelly, who entered his senior season averaging 4.2 points per game for his career. “The numbers, they don’t really matter to me how high they go. We have a plus-minus system, and the more pluses I have, that’s the more satisfaction I’ll get.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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