Ron Baker is calm and matter of fact when he talks about Wichita State basketball. He gets a little more excited talking about his old school, Scott City, in the Class 3A football playoffs.
Perhaps that helps explains why Baker, a redshirt freshman guard, is showing no sign of jitters early in his Shocker career. Playing in front of 10,000 fans is nothing to get excited about when a player shoots as well as Baker. He scored 18 points, making 4 of 7 three-pointers in Saturday’s 71-57 win over North Carolina Central in the opener for both teams.
His teammates aren’t surprised. Baker scored 17 points in Monday’s exhibition game against Pittsburg State.
“That’s what he does — shoot the ball,” senior forward Carl Hall said. “You kick it out and you know he’s going to hit the shot.”
Baker, whose brother Sloan plays special teams for Scott City, redshirted last season so he could prepare for the jump from high school to college. The plan is working so far. In two games, Baker is 8 of 14 from the field, 6 of 12 from the behind the arc, with 10 rebounds. He isn’t just a jump shooter, either, if making 13 of 15 free throws is an indication.
“I’ve been nervous, but mainly I just try and focus,” he said. “Redshirting helped out a lot, because I know exactly what is going on during the game and before the game starts. I know the routine. I know what to expect.”
Wichita State openers usually feature an overmatched team from a low-profile conference, a lot of substitutions, a few debut jitters and a Shocker victory.
Saturday’s win checked all those boxes. Central provided enough resistance with its zone defense and traps to make the Shockers work. Coach Gregg Marshall played a lot of combinations and gave his bench time to work through ups and downs. WSU had no film of the Eagles, so the changing defenses and half-court traps caught them by surprise. The Shockers will see similar strategies — executed more quickly with better athletes — on Tuesday at Virginia Commonwealth.
“This is not really the ideal team to play in your first game, because you don’t really have much to scout on,” Marshall said. “We weren’t prepared for the trap on the first pass. That got us twice.”
Central switched to zone and started trapping when it fell behind early. The tactics briefly got the Eagle close.
“We try to multiple defense, especially when you’re playing teams with superior athleticism and size just to try to throw them off,” Central coach LaVelle Moton said.
Up 12-4, the Shockers turned the ball over five straight times and Central cut the lead to 12-11. It took the Shockers several possessions — and the return of the starters — to slice through the zone and navigate the traps. Hall started a burst with a three-point play for a 19-14 lead. Baker hit back-to-back threes for a 25-14 lead.
With Malcolm Armstead running the offense, things came easier for WSU. He drove into the zone to draw defenders and found Baker open on the baseline for the second of his back-to-back baskets. Baker, who scored 11 first-half points, made another three for a 29-14 lead. WSU’s defense carried it through the uncertainty on offense. The Eagles missed seven straight shots after closing to within 16-14, most of them contested. WSU held Central to 7-of-26 shooting and forced eight turnovers in the first half. Ehimen Orukpe blocked two shots and altered others.
“We couldn’t make shots,” Moton said. “They really took us out of what we wanted to do. We have several newcomers, and this was their welcome to college basketball. This is a hostile environment to play your first college game.”
WSU led 36-18 at halftime. WSU led by as many as 22 in the second half. The Eagles cut it to 13 late in the game, never seriously threatening. Marshall played 12 players and got a good look at several newcomers and lineups in the second half.
“I thought we were really good in the first half,” Marshall said. “In the second half, they outscored us. We’ve got to live and learn and figure out what to do to get better.”
Hall added 17 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks for WSU. He made 9 of 11 free throws. Cleanthony Early came off the bench to score 10 points. Stanton Kidd led Central with 22 points.