January 18 is too early to call the Missouri Valley Conference basketball race.
No. 5 Wichita State handled the other presumed conference contender on Saturday at packed Koch Arena, smashing Indiana State 68-48.
Both teams entered the game 5-0 in the Missouri Valley. But the Shockers, 19-0 overall and 6-0 in the conference, hammered the Sycamores, 14-4 and 5-1, back into second place with an 11-0 run to start the second half.
“We did not compete,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. “We didn’t give the fans a chance to really go nuts because we didn’t keep it close enough. It’s like the guys knew they were beat and tried to get the game over with.”
Wichita State’s defense grabbed the momentum early in the second half by forcing turnovers. The Shockers spent the rest of the half proving they are too big, too focused on defense and too efficient on offense for the rest of the Missouri Valley. And they’ve got a nasty killer instinct.
“We were taught a lesson by one of the best teams in the country," Lansing said. "They could win the whole thing, and not just the conference. They could run the table and win the national championship."
The Shockers said the right things after the game. They will take it one game at a time and not look too far ahead. If they stick to that, it is bad news for the rest of the Valley. Nine teams are counting on catching the Shockers on a bad day.
“We were just focusing on being first in the Valley,” said Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet, who scored 15 points. “The next time we play them, the margin we won by won’t matter. They’re a veteran team. We’re going to have to come out next time even harder.”
The rest of the conference can only hope Wichita State’s dominance is a home phenomenon. The Shocker breezed past Indiana State and Northern Iowa — the teams most likely to give them trouble — at home. On the road, the Shockers fell behind by 19 points before rallying to beat Missouri State.
“I know I’m not looking forward to going to Terre Haute,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “We held serve.”
Ron Baker led the Shockers with 16 points. He left the game briefly in the second half after tweaking his sore left ankle. Baker returned a few minutes later and played the rest of the game.
Dawon Cummings led the Sycamores with 19 points.
Wichita State held Indiana State to eight baskets in the second half and 16 of 51 (31.4 percent) on field goals for the game. No starter other than Cummings scored more than seven points. Wichita State stopper Tekele Cotton eliminated Sycamores guard Jake Odum, usually a big-time bother to the Shockers, by holding him to seven points.
The Shockers didn’t need a big day from the outside — they were just three of 15 on three-pointers. They outrebounded Indiana State 44-30 and outscored the Sycamores 34-14 in the paint.
“I did not have them prepared to compete like they’re going to need to compete to beat one of the best teams in the country," Lansing said.
The end came quickly for the Sycamores with a rash of turnovers.
“We had good intensity on the defensive end in the first half, but that’s a good team,” VanVleet said. “We wanted to take it to another level defensively. We were able to get some rebounds and steals and get out early.”
Indiana State’s Justin Gant missed a layup and VanVleet scored for a 33-22 lead. Baker caught Gant with his back turned and stole the ball. Baker’s three-point play gave Wichita State a 36-22 lead with 17:16 remaining. Chadrack Lufile scored after another turnover, giving the Shockers a 38-22 lead.
The Shockers kept coming. Lansing watched his team cave, letting down on the defensive end as the offense faltered.
Cleanthony Early made two baskets for a 42-22 Wichita State edge. Indiana State scored its first point of the second half on a free throw with 15:08 to play. Gant’s follow shot gave Indiana State its first basket of the half with 12:15 remaining and Wichita State up 47-26.
The Shockers led 31-22 at halftime, thanks to a 12-6 run that closed the half.
VanVleet made three of five shots and scored nine points in the first half, bailing the Shockers out of several shot-clock situations. Baker added eight points. The Shockers made 11 of 24 shots in the first half .
The Shockers are 6-0 in the Missouri Valley for the first time since 1963-64. Historical landmarks fall almost every time they take the court. The rest of the conference appears to be props in this Shocker story.
“To beat the No. 2 team, as they are now, like that, is a statement in itself,” Baker said. “It was a big game, and we all knew that. We know that we can play at this type of level.”
Can anybody else?Northern Iowa 94, Missouri State 89
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa
Nate Buss scored 26 points, and Seth Tuttle added 21 as Northern Iowa shot 67.4 percent from the field Saturday.
Buss hit 10 of 13 field goals and made five of six from beyond the three-point arc, where the Panthers, 10-8 overall and 4-2 in the Missouri Valley Conference, were 13-of-21. Tuttle made seven of eight from the field.
Trailing 61-59 and facing its only deficit of the game, Northern Iowa went on a 20-6 run and took a 79-67 lead. Missouri State, 12-6 and 2-4, cut its deficit to 88-86 on a three-pointer with 28 seconds left, but the Panthers converted their final six free throw attempts.
Ron Mvouika scored 28 points for the Bears, who shot 59.3 percent from the field. Mvouika was 10 of 13 from the field and hit all six of his three-point attempts.
It was Missouri State’s third straight loss.