Opponents surrendered the Missouri Valley Conference title to Wichita State weeks ago. The Shockers officially won it on Saturday with a performance that showed why they long ago demoralized the MVC.
No. 3 WSU routed Drake 83-54 on Saturday night at Koch Arena with a ferocious defense that thoroughly rattled the Bulldogs. Tekele Cotton caused havoc, scoring a career-high 21 points and gobbling up lazy passes and careless dribbles for seven steals to tie WSU’s single-game record.
While the net-cutting and cheering, hugging and high-fiving seemed inevitable, the Shockers and their fans enjoyed every moment. Much of the crowd of 10,506 stuck around to see the scissors do their part as the players and coaches took the net down bit by bit, exactly how they had approached this 29-game win streak.
“It means a lot, honestly, it really does,” WSU guard Fred VanVleet said. “If we didn’t have more games to play, obviously, we would be able to sit here and pour out all our emotions for how much it really means.”
VanVleet, the coach-on-the-floor, stopped there and directed thoughts toward Tuesday’s game at Bradley. It’s another game everyone expects the Shockers to win and another game that deserves their full attention.
“We were able to cut down nets and get that out of the way,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “We didn’t even talk about this goal, because the whole thing has been on next game, next game.”
Second-place Indiana State lost at Missouri State on Saturday afternoon, giving the Shockers sole ownership of the title. The Shockers, 29-0 and 16-0 in the Valley, played Saturday night to leave no doubt and continue their reign as the nation’s lone unbeaten team.
Darius Carter and VanVleet both added 15 for WSU, which didn’t need scoring from Cleanthony Early (three points) or Ron Baker (six) to put up 80-plus points for the fourth time in five games.
WSU held Drake, the Valley’s best three-point shooting team, to three of 10 from behind the arc. The Bulldogs, 14-14 and 5-11, finished the game with 20 turnovers and 18 baskets. The Shockers scored 31 points off those turnovers.
“They really get out and deny and pressure you,” Drake coach Ray Giacoletti said. “They’re long and aggressive and run through the passing lanes. You may be able to beat them here and there, but you’re not going to beat it consistently for 40 minutes unless you have really, really good guards.”
Cotton’s seven steals led to 10 points.
“Were there more than one Tekele Cotton out there,” Marshall said. “He was all over the place. We had to have 45 deflections — 35 is our goal and we had to have more than that.”
Cotton joined Ernie Moore (1964), Cheese Johnson (1978) and Robert George (1992) atop WSU’s single-game steals list. He started his mischief by picking off a cross-court pass by Drake center Seth VanDeest and turned that into a layup in the first half. Just over a minute later, he stole a pass by guard Jordan Daniels and dunked and the game changed for good.
“I was just trying to play in the passing lanes and just read whoever had the ball, read their eyes,” he said.
WSU ended the first half with an 11-1 run. It started the second half with a 14-1 run before giving the Bulldogs a little room with a 45-19 lead and fans waiting to cut down nets.
In a closet off Koch Arena’s north tunnel, an orange aluminum stepladder, seven steps high, started warming up.
Drake didn’t get a shot off for almost four minutes in the second half. Its first possession ended with free throws. Its next five ended in turnovers. Aaron Hawley made a three with 16:18 remaining. Then the Bulldogs turned it over again and Carter scored for a 47-22 lead.
With five minutes to play, Drake had 20 turnovers and 15 baskets, and that’s a hard way to try to win.
The Shockers slapped 20 minutes of hard defense on the Bulldogs to build a 31-18 lead at halftime. Drake, the Missouri Valley’s top three-point shooting team, missed all six. It missed 15 of its 21 shots. Most damaging were the 10 turnovers, resulting in 13 points for the Shockers.
When it was over, the ladder made its way to the south basket for the net-cutting ceremony.