Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall cut practice short on Monday because his team performed so well. Usually, that is a sign of good things to come.
On Tuesday night, it was and it wasn’t. The fourth-ranked Shockers defeated Southern Illinois 78-67 at Koch Arena in one of their weaker performances of the season. When a team is undefeated and running away with its conference title, weaker is all relative. The Shockers weren’t pleased with their effort, yet the good times roll on with 26 straight victories.
“At the end of the day, it’s 26-0,” WSU guard Ron Baker said. “A lot of teams look at a loss as a learning experience. We don’t want that to happen. We’re going to learn by winning.”
The Shockers (26-0, 13-0 Missouri Valley Conference) will go to school on several issues. Turnovers are a growing problem. SIU (10-16, 6-7) matched their 12 offensive rebounds, despite a size disadvantage, and scored 18 second-chance points.
“That was not our best effort,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “They had a great game plan. They packed it in and we didn’t make any shots. We didn’t rebound great. We were sloppy with the basketball.”
Marshall didn’t expect that, even in an odd and taxing preparation time. The Shockers, ranked No. 2 in the coaches poll, played two road games last week, forcing them to take Sunday off. That gave them one day to prepare for a team that is dramatically different than when they met on Jan. 2.
“I thought we would have a great performance,” he said. “We had a 16-minute segment (in practice) and I cut it down to 12. They loved that, and then they’re even more excited. But it didn’t carry over.”
The Salukis are starting two players who didn’t start in WSU’s 82-67 win at SIU Arena. Guard Anthony Beane, scoreless in 34 minutes in that game, scorched WSU for 25 on Tuesday. Preparing for Beane while watching film isn’t the same as trying to stay in front of him on the court.
“We knew he was going to be aggressive and attack, we didn’t realize how hot he was coming into the game,” Baker said. “He was very aggressive and getting clean looks.”
SIU kept the game close with a zone defense and a three-guard lineup that gave WSU fits.
Baker led WSU with 19 points, 13 in the second half. The Shockers made 6 of 13 three-pointers in the second half. They led 64-61 when they finally put SIU away. Nick Wiggins started the closing push with a three for a 67-61 lead. Baker’s three made it 72-64. Two free throws by Baker gave WSU a 74-64 lead with 1:54 to play.
“They made shots and that crowd just went nuts,” SIU coach Barry Hinson said. “They hit big shots because the momentum was there from the crowd.”
WSU made 24 of 32 fouls shots, outscoring SIU by 10 points at the line. Beane played 39 minutes, clearly tiring late, and leading scorer Desmar Jackson fouled out.
SIU aided WSU’s closing push with a series of turnovers that led to layups and fueled the crowd.
“We ran out of gas,” Hinson said.
WSU’s Cleanthony Early started the second half with three free throws after drawing a foul Jackson. WSU went up 35-33 and Beane answered. Tekele Cotton tied the game 41-all with a corner three. Beane answered by dribbling past several defenders and lofting in a runner.
VanVleet went to the bench with his third foul with 16:22 to play, whistled for his familiar forearm push that often goes unpenalized. Strangely, WSU got hot.
Early’s three-point play gave the Shockers a 44-43 lead and started a burst that gave them a small cushion. Baker, after five missed threes, made one for a 49-44 lead. Baker turned a steal into a three for Early and a 52-46 lead. Then Baker found Cotton cutting to the rim for another three-point play and a 55-48 lead with 12:40 remaining. Darius Carter tossed in a short hook for a 57-48 lead and the crowd smelled blood, roaring and standing.
The scene didn’t bother the Salukis. They cut WSU’s lead to 59-55 and kept working, often beating the Shockers to loose balls.
WSU’s Evan Wessel, however, chased down a crucial offensive rebound, leading to a three by Baker for a 64-57 lead. Wiggins made his second three for a 67-61 lead. Free throws by Cotton boosted the lead to eight points with 2:55 to play.
The Shockers survived a rough first half to trail 33-32 at halftime. They missed 12 of 14 threes and committed seven turnovers. The smaller Salukis out-rebounded them 19-16 and scored 11 points on offensive rebounds. WSU played the final 4: 57 of the half with Baker and VanVleet on the bench with two fouls.
Despite those troubles, the Shockers kept it close.
SIU missed a chance to build a bigger lead by going 5 of 12 from the foul line. The Shockers outscored them by five points at the line.
Beane led all scorers with 14 first-half points, making 6 of 10 shots. Early led WSU with eight points, six at the line.
SIU went up 19-14 and while WSU rallied, the Salukis answered every burst. Two free throws by Early tied it 23-all. SIU’s Jalen Pendleton, a pesky 6-foot-1 forward, made two foul shots for a two-point lead. Early scored again to tie it. A free throw by Wiggins gave WSU its first lead at 26-25 lead with 5:41 to play.
SIU responded with a 7-2 run to go up 32-28. It didn’t a basket in the half’s final 3:19. WSU, however, let the Salukis off the hook with its own issues.