All the emotion of the exhibition opener, the season opener and the midnight banner drop is over. No. 16 Wichita State had to play basketball in a game with no special significance.
Coach Gregg Marshall took the blame for a slow start. So did the players. It became a minor point when the Shockers got rolling in the second half on their way to a 79-62 win over William Mary at Koch Arena in the CBE Classic. WSU trailed by one point at halftime. It didn’t take long to grab the lead in the second half with their big men leading the way.
“Thank goodness for the second half,” Marshall said. “They seemed to be more ready to play. They carved us up. We’ve got to do better coming out of the gate.”
Fred VanVleet led the Shockers (3-0) with a career-high 18 points and he handed out eight assists, one off his career high. Cleanthony Early added 14, all in the first half. WSU made 7 of 19 three-pointers and outscored the Tribe 18-11 at the foul line. Center Kadeem Coleby added 10 points.
Guard Marcus Thornton led William Mary (1-2) with 18 points. The Tribe hurt its upset bid by missing 11 of 22 free throws.
William Mary made the Shockers look bad on defense frequently in the first half, running a Princeton-style offense with lots of screens, cutting and handoffs. The Shockers prepared for the offense, perhaps too much.
“We weren’t prepared for this team as well as we should have been,” Marshall said. “We tried to change too many things and I think they were confused. We should have been up, guarding them man to man the whole time, playing our normal man to man defense.”
The Shockers pointed to a lack of hustle in the first half. In the second half, regardless of strategic moves, they played harder. In the end, it’s a 17-point win and no harm done.
“We had our motors going a little bit more in the second half,” VanVleet said. “They came out and got the first punch on us, which doesn’t happen very often. That kind of performance isn’t going to get it done.”
The Shockers opened the second half with Coleby’s dunk on a pass from Ron Baker to take their first lead of the game. WSU’s big men, a non-factor in the first half, took over in the second.
Baker’s corner three, on an inbound play, put WSU up 43-41. After Baker took a charge, Coleby scored in the lane for a 45-41 edge. He scored again. Darius Carter’s free throw made it 48-43.
Then the real highlights started.
Chadrack Lufile faked Tim Rusthoven off his feet, then spun back for a basket. Carter’s three-point play made it 56-45. Lufile got the crowd roaring when he stole a pass near the free throw line and dribbled the length of the court for a dunk and a 58-45 lead.
Tribe coach Tony Shaver called his second timeout of the half, desperately trying to regroup and calm the crowd.
William Mary got no closer than seven points after that.
“We were ready for the game, but we didn’t jump on their throat like we usually do,” WSU guard Nick Wiggins said. “It was really our effort and our intensity. We weren’t making the plays we usually make.”
The Tribe outplayed the Shockers in the first half in almost every area. It shot 52 percent from the field, committed four turnovers and made five of six free throws. A zone defense frustrated WSU for most of the half. Yet the Shockers were within one point, 39-38.
The Tribe opened a 13-3 lead on an open three-pointer by Kyle Gaillard, who scored seven points in a brief appearance before sitting with three fouls. That was one of several open shots surrendered by WSU’s defense. Rusthoven scored 10 first-half points with slick post moves and good positioning. The Shockers held leading scorer Thornton scoreless much of the half, then he broke out for nine points, including a drive and dunk over Baker for a 39-33 lead.
The Shockers finished the half with five straight points from Early.