ST. LOUIS — Wichita State will be the heavy favorite in Saturday’s semifinal against Illinois State. Does it matter? Who knows. When the Redbirds tried to place the burden of expectations on the Shockers, their coach grabbed it back.
“Them being the No. 1 seed, they’ve got a lot of pressure on them,” Redbirds guard Bryant Allen said. “We just want to go out and execute and continue to play team basketball.”
Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich differed.
“I love these guys,” he said, smiling, after Allen and two other players departed the press conference. “But they’re totally full of crap. The pressure is on us. Wichita is in the NCAA Tournament. I don’t really see any pressure on them at this point. I would say the team in red is the one with the pressure on them.”
The fourth-seeded Redbirds advanced with a 54-42 win over fifth-seeded Northern Iowa in Friday’s quarterfinal. Jankovich called it his team’s finest defensive effort of the season.
“On both sides of the ball, we just really grew up,” he said. “It was our best, toughest, grittiest, most most mature. They looked older. They looked like they got it.”
Jankovich said all that after a miserable shooting effort. The Redbirds missed 17 of 20 three-pointers and shot 34.5 percent from the field. In his younger days, Jankovich loved pretty offensive games. Now he appreciates the resolve necessary to win ugly.
“Those only happen through the right mindset, the right mentality, the right toughness, the right chemistry,” he said.
That chemistry gets tested against No. 15 WSU.
“The big prize is that you get the 15th-ranked team in the country who just looked like a million bucks to me,” Jankovich said.
Big absence — Illinois State lost to WSU 68-55 on Feb. 22 at home. The Redbirds trailed by 17 in the second half and cut that margin to nine with the ball in the final four minutes.
As well as the Shockers are playing, that is cause for optimism. Unfortunately for the Redbirds, they won’t have center Jordan Threloff, out with a broken thumb.
Threloff, 6-foot-10, helped guard WSU’s Garrett Stutz.
“As soon as we lost him this week, my first thought was Wichita and a big gulp,” Jankovich said. “He’s a big body. He kept us in that game, I thought. And we don’t have him now.”
WSU made 10 of 23 threes, with Joe Ragland going 4 for 7 to score 14 points. The Shockers held the Redbirds to 37.7-percent shooting and no starter reached double figures.
Different on defense — Creighton won with defense, which isn’t its usual way of operating.
The Bluejays held off Drake 68-61 on Friday, limiting the Bulldogs to 1-of-15 shooting from three-point range. Jahenns Manigat, and others, took Drake forward Ben Simons out of the game in the second half by holding him to one basket. Coach Greg McDermott told his defenders to lock onto Simons and not leave him to stop drivers. He pulled the first player to do so and got his message across.
“On a night we didn’t shoot it particularly well, we still found a way to win,” McDermott said.
Creighton normally outscores teams. Perhaps the Bluejays started some defensive momentum. They held Drake to eight points in the first 12 minutes of the second half and built a 52-42 lead after leading 35-34 at halftime.
“You get a stop one time, and you feel more comfortable about the next possession down,” guard Antoine Young said.
The second key to Creighton’s win was more conventional. Sophomore forward Doug McDermott scored 17 of his 26 points in the second half. He made 6 of 8 shots and 3 of 4 threes after intermission.
Miles and miles — Creighton and Wichita State fans turned out by the thousands for Friday’s quarterfinals. They led all schools in advance tickets sales, not surprising because both played well all season.
Impressive, especially considering the distances those fans travel. After the Creighton game, the Bluejays tried to claim the title of All-MVC Travelers for their fans.
“They believe in us,” Creighton’s Josh Jones said. “We are actually the farthest team from home.”
Actually, that’s not quite accurate. According to Google maps, the drive from Creighton’s campus to the Scottrade Center is 436 miles. From WSU to the arena is 443 miles.
Change in Carbondale — Chris Lowery’s roller-coaster tenure as coach at Southern Illinois ended Friday, less than 24 hours after Indiana State eliminated the Salukis 66-51 at Scottrade Center.
SIU fired Lowery, ending his eight seasons at his alma mater. Lowery went 145-116, 49-75 in the past four seasons. He is the only person to play and coach for an MVC Tournament champion. In his first four seasons as coach, SIU went to three NCAAs and the NIT. As a player, he competed in two NCAAs and two NITs.
Roster turnover plagued Lowery during the slide. He signed 11 players in 2008 and 2009 and two - senior Justin Bocot and junior Kendal Brown-Surles - remain at SIU.
End game — Bradley wrapped up an awful season on Thursday night. Coach Geno Ford set records for optimism during a difficult time.
Ford, in his first season, is ready to recruit and add talent. The 10th-seeded Braves went 7-25, most losses in program history, after a 65-49 loss to Drake.
“We have the best kids that I’ve ever been arond for a season,” he said. “That’s genuine. Under extreme adversity, they were great. We need to find a way next year to do the same things we did in every area, except on Wednesday and Saturday night we’ve got to score more points.”
Welcome to the club — The MVC inducted six people into its Hall of Fame on Friday morning.
The class includes: Missouri State coach and TV analyst Charlie Spoonhour, Creighton basketball star Paul Silas, Evansville men’s soccer coach Fred Schamtz, track thrower Connie Price-Smith of Southern Illinois, Louisville basketball coach Denny Crum and Northern Iowa hurdler Joey Woody.