TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Indiana State’s free throw defense relies on celebrities such as Donald Trump, Justin Bieber, Dr. Phil and, of course, Larry Bird. The students wave big-head photos of those and others behind the visitors basket in the second half.
Wichita State players had a favorite — their own Garrett Stutz, complete with a mustache.
“They were on Stutz pretty hard tonight,” WSU senior David Kyles said, laughing.
“I thought the Stutz one was pretty funny,” guard Toure Murry said.
The Shockers noticed that one. Nothing else distracted them making free throws in the second half of Sunday’s 75-65 win at the Hulman Center. The Shockers made 15 of 18 in the second half. They made seven straight in the final 2:10, providing them enough cushion to beat the Sycamores for the fourth straight time on the road.
WSU (15-3, 6-1 Missouri Valley Conference) is 4-0 in Valley road games this season and 12-1 over the past two. Kyles planned to sleep on the plane ride home, knowing his teammates will be laughing and joking. It’s hard to remember how a losing ride feels.
“We have a good time, it’s all smiles and jokes,” he said. “We haven’t taken too many plane rides back mad.”
Indiana State (11-7, 2-5) dropped its fourth game in the past five. The Sycamores, picked third after an NCAA Tournament berth last season, played with a desperation that made Sunday’s game a brawl. The Shockers matched their intensity and finally subdued them with a three-pointer and a four-point play by Ben Smith less than a minute apart late in the game. Smith, working off a screen by Stutz, made the first one from the baseline to give WSU a 63-58 lead. After a miss by Indiana State, Smith got a screen from Joe Ragland and made one from the right wing. R.J. Mahurin bumped Smith as the ball swished through and stood with his hands on his head, engulfed in happy Shockers. Smith’s free throw made it 67-58 with 2:10 remaining.
“We were just running motion like we always do,” Smith said. “I saw it open and I just shot it with confidence. Then they saw I hit one and they thought I could hit another one. They give me confidence and faith in my shot.”
Smith’s daggers ended an outstanding night behind the arc. WSU made 10 of 20, allowing it to survive a night when its inside game didn’t produce big numbers and it was out-rebounded for the first time this season.
“I wanted them to have to beat us from the perimeter, and that’s what they did,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. “But we can’t let their best shooters hit them.”
Smith made 3 of 5 threes and scored 10 points. Kyles made 4 of 5 threes and scored 16. The Sycamores packed in their defense to take away Stutz and forward Carl Hall, neither of whom reached double figures. The Shockers compensated quite nicely. The shooters realize the attention paid to the big men helps.
“They all flood down to the middle,” Smith said. “When they’re flooding that much, they can’t really help out and get back to us. It makes it easy to shoot threes.”
After Smith’s threes quieted the crowd of 6,410, the Shockers calmly made their free throws. Kyles made two with 1:03 to play for a 69-60 lead. Murry hit Demetric Williams over the top of the press for a layup to respond to a Sycamore three-pointer. Stutz made two free throws with 32 seconds to play, putting the Shockers up 73-65. Murry made two more with 17 seconds remaing for the final margin.
And the big heads drooped, rendered insignificant by the Shockers.
“You notice it, but you’ve just got to block it out and focus on the game,” Murry said.
Once again, the Shockers showed they can do that on the road better than most teams.
“We just come together and we know we need these wins to compete for a championship,” Murry said. “We got out there every road game with a mind-set that we’re trying to win and play together.”
Check Paul Suellentrop’s Shocker blog at blogs.kansas.com/shockwaves. Reach him at 316-269-6260 or email@example.com