In the first half, Wichita State looked like a team missing three starters. In the second half, the Shockers looked like a team ready to move on with the nine players still standing.
The Shockers defeated Charleston Southern 65-53 on Thursday at Koch Arena with injured starters Carl Hall, Ron Baker and Evan Wessel watching from the bench. The first-half Shockers missed Hall’s inside scoring, Wessel’s shooting and Baker’s passing. The second-half Shockers held Charleston Southern to six baskets and shot almost 50 percent from the field to pull away after trailing by one at halftime.
“It wasn’t a beautiful display of basketball by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a W and that’s all I’m after at this point,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said.
The new-look Shockers (10-1) grabbed control much like the complete roster would. Pressure defense disrupted Charleston Southern (4-6) early in the second half and sparked the offense. WSU forward Cleanthony Early pleaded for the ball in the post and got it. Other times, he went and got it himself off the backboards. He scored WSU’s first 12 points of the second half to give it a lead it never lost.
“Going into the half I told the guys I was posting up and I’m open,” Early said. “They were looking for me. I got a couple of (foul) calls, along with the bucket, and got the ball rolling from there.”
Early led WSU with 20 points and a season-high 10 rebounds, five on the offensive glass. He scored 14 of those points in the second half.
“He had a lot of bounce about him in the second half,” Marshall said.
WSU started the second half on an 8-0 Early run. He converted two three-point plays and slammed a lob on an inbound play. After Charleston Southern scored its first points of the half — a three by Saah Nimley with 15:18 to play — Early responded with a three and a free throw to build a 39-33 lead. He ended a stirring eight minutes by diving on the floor to force a jump ball with the arrow in WSU’s favor. He earned an ovation from the crowd and praise from the coaches on his way to the bench.
WSU opened the gap by getting the ball inside — something it failed to do in the first half against a zone defense — and forcing turnovers with its press. Tekele Cotton pushed the lead to 43-33 with two baskets and WSU kept the lead in double figures most of the rest of the way.
In the first half, the Shockers looked hesitant to pass to the big men, putting the absence of Hall, WSU’s leading scorer and rebounder, in bright lights. The guards showed more determination to find teammates in the lane in the second half and it changed the momentum.
“Without Carl, we still need to throw it in on occasion and try to get those guys some paint touches,” Marshall said.
The Buccaneers committed 16 turnovers, leading to 21 WSU points. The height and aggressiveness of WSU’s guards overwhelmed the smaller Buccaneers at times. They shot 6 of 24 from the field in the second half and 17 of 50 for the game.
“It was a combination of their pressure and our lack of execution against the press,” Charleston Southern coach Barclay Radebaugh said. “If we would have executed against the press, we would have been fine.”
WSU’s nine-man rotation looked deep enough on this night. Players who previously played little contributed. Wing Nick Wiggins scored 11 points in 16 minutes off the bench. Center Chadrack Lufile scored eight points and grabbed 12 rebounds.
“Some people got to step in and step up,” WSU guard Demetric Williams said. “Some people did that.”
Nimley led Charleston Southern (4-6) with 21 points, 14 in the first half.
Predictably, WSU’s first half with three starters sidelined looked ugly. The Shockers missed 20 of their 31 shots and allowed Charleston Southern’s zone defense to rattle them at times. Charleston Southern also outrebounded WSU 20-17 in the half. WSU rarely passed the ball inside, allowing Charleston Southern to guard shooters and keep the ball harmlessly moving around the perimeter as the shot clock ticked away.
“Playing keepaway, Coach (Marshall) calls it,” Early said. “Not really attacking the basket. We were just being passive.”
Charleston Southern went up 26-20 on a three by Paul Gombwer. Demetric Williams rescued WSU with a long three late in the shot clock to stop a 7-0 run. After Charleston Southern went up 28-23, the Shockers scored the half’s final four points to trail by one at halftime.
Wiggins gave WSU a spark off the bench with eight points in the first half. His one-handed dunk got the crowd buzzing. His three late in the half cut the lead to 28-26. Wiggins scored eight points in the half, as did Williams.