Recovering from a strained hamstring takes time for the brain, as well as the muscles that produce much of the body’s speed and flexibility.
The muscles may be ready to go. The brain has to agree.
On Sunday, Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet’s mind and body worked together in a way that seemed to signal a bump in quickness and leaping ability. He scored a career-high 29 points in an 82-62 win over Indiana State, and his left hamstring allowed him to execute many of the movements that make him such a special player.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “I’m not saying ‘I’m back,’ I’m not trying to proclaim anything, but as long I’m making progress I’m excited about that.”
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VanVleet made nine of 15 shots, all eight of his free throws and handed out five assists without a turnover. As usual, he controlled much of the game by pushing the basketball for easy baskets when appropriate and steadily running the offense at other times. Most important was his old quickness and ability to score at the rim over bigger players seemed more present.
The Shockers finished with just five turnovers and outscored Indiana State by 10 points at the line, and VanVleet played a major role in both those stats.
“Best pure point guard in the country,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. “We tried to give him a lot of attention.”
Ron Baker added 16 points and seven rebounds for the Shockers.
Wichita State won its 40th straight home game, the nation’s second-longest streak behind Arizona’s 49-game run.
The Shockers, 12-5 overall and 6-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference, remained in first place in the conference by defeating the Sycamores, 10-8 and 4-2, for the seventh straight time.
Indiana State sophomore guard Brenton Scott scored 24 points, 16 of them in the first half.
The Shockers bottled up Indiana State’s fast-break chances and forced 16 turnovers, leading to 18 points. They made 13 of 28 shots in the second half while holding Indiana State to eight-of-29 shooting and turned a one-point halftime edge into a lead that never slipped below 12 in the final 11 minutes.
Wichita State started the second half with a 6-2 run that forced Indiana State to call a timeout, trailing 41-32. A 10-0 run by the Shockers pushed the lead to 51-37, capped by Zach Brown’s three-point play. Lansing didn’t like his team’s shot selection early in the half, or the way it responded to the Shockers outbursts.
“The best team in the league showed a good team just what a championship-caliber does on both ends of the floor,” he said. “We can learn some lessons from them. We were not difficult to play against in the second half. That might have been the easiest 20 minutes they’ve had.”
VanVleet had much to do with that. In recent practices he’s recognized the need to push himself more so that he can get in better condition.
“I’ve been babying my leg a little bit, just because I’ve got re-injury in the back of my head,” he said. “So I create a lot of bad habits in practice and games where I’m not going full out, as hard as I could. My conditioning is not where it would usually be midseason.”
VanVleet scored 18 points in the first half. He passed his previous high of 27 points with a layup that made it 68-49 with 6:41 to play. Two minutes later, he exited to a standing ovation.
“He looked like the old Fred a little bit,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “He looked pretty explosive to me. He was able to weave his way through traffic a couple of times, and he was actually finishing.”
VanVleet carried the Shockers with 18 first-half points. He made two three-pointers and all six of his foul shots. The Sycamores failed to keep him out of the lane and VanVleet feasted on layups and foul shots. He made five of 10 shots, and the rest of the team went six for 21 from the field.
Scott scored 16 first-half points, making all four of his threes. He committed four turnovers and his team’s 10 played a large role in keeping Wichita State in the lead.