Wichita State’s junior class knows this Missouri Valley Conference title is different than the previous ones. When they return to Koch Arena, they will enjoy 2015 and 2016 banners they played a role in hanging and savor the one from 2017 in a more substantial way.
“Those years before, we had Fred (VanVleet), Ron (Baker) and those guys that you knew would make winning plays,” junior center Shaq Morris said. “This is special because we’ve got a team that came together and grew, who didn’t make the winning plays early on.”
Now there’s no doubt the Shockers can make winning plays. All the questions about leadership, guard play and big shots that lingered into the fall are answered.
No. 25 Wichita State will hang another Valley banner in Koch Arena, where the rafters are crowded and coach Gregg Marshall filled up one hand with rings. The Shockers earned a share of their fourth consecutive MVC title with a 86-67 win over Missouri State on Saturday at JQH Arena.
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Illinois State’s 63-42 win at Northern Iowa gave the Redbirds a share of the title, their first since 1998. Illinois State should win the RPI ranking tiebreaker over Wichita State and take the top seed in the MVC Tournament.
Landry Shamet scored a career-high 23 points, making 5 of 8 three-pointers for Wichita State. Morris added 20 points. Conner Frankamp chipped in 14, eight in the second half.
The Shockers (27-4, 17-1 MVC) made 11 of 26 three-pointers, 8 of 16 in the second half, to win their 12th straight game.
Missouri State (16-15, 7-11) ended the season with losses in 6 of 7 games. The Bears will likely end up as the No. 6 seed, depending on other results Saturday.
Missouri State guard Dequon Miller scored 19 points, 13 in the second half. Junior forward Alize Johnson added 18 points and 12 rebounds, six on the offensive end. It is Johnson’s 16th game with 10 or more points and rebounds.
To the extent the past teams of VanVleet and Baker weighed on the Shockers — pay attention TV announcers who can’t make it through a broadcast without mentioning them — that bit of overshadowing is no longer relevant.
“It’s our first one without Ron and Fred,” junior Rashard Kelly said. “This one might mean a little more to us.”
Winning in a road arena spoiled the fun of cutting down nets for the Shockers. Instead, they wore yellow shirts that read “Still Shockin” and black MVC champions hats. A loud celebration raged in the locker room.
“It would have felt better at home, but a win is a win,” Kelly said. “We’ve still got the same opportunity in St. Louis.”
Wichita State’s history-making run atop the MVC continued with another outstanding offensive performance. The Shockers shot 54.1 percent from the field and finished with 20 assists and five turnovers.
“The numbers have been off the chain recently, with the way we’ve been shooting it,” Marshall said. “We’re very unselfish, to boot.”
▪ Wichita State is the MVC’s first four-in-a-row champion since Southern Illinois from 2002-05. Cincinnati won six from 1958-63, most during the modern era. It is Wichita State’s fifth in the past six seasons.
▪ Wichita State’s total of 11 MVC titles is the most among active members.
▪ Marshall is the first MVC coach in 60 years to win five regular-season titles, a stretch that started in 2012. Wichita State hasn’t finished lower than second since 2009.
The Shockers defeated the Bears for the 14th straight time and the sixth at JQH Arena. The last Missouri State win came in 2011 and clinched the Valley title in a sold-out and raucous arena. Times changed quickly and the programs diverged.
Missouri State’s zone defense worked to the extent it slowed the pace and saved legs from fatigue. The Bears never led, however, and trailed by eight or more points over the final 11 minutes.
“They do what they do, they wore us down,” Missouri State coach Paul Lusk said. “They had some guys who made some big shots. Big shot-makers.”
A 10-3 run by the Bears — with Miller scoring seven — pulled them within 50-46 and forced a rare Wichita State timeout with 14:10 to play.
Shamet responded with two threes. Daishon Smith added one and the Shockers went up 65-52 with a 15-6 run that ended when Markis McDuffie grabbed a Shamet airball and scored.
The Shockers ran more than a minute off the clock during a possession that feature four Bears fouls. It ended with a Kelly basket for a 70-54 lead with 5:57 to play.
Two three-pointers by Frankamp gave Wichita State an 82-63 lead in the final minutes.