Wichita State is used to winning at Southern Illinois, a place it used to dread. It owns a two-game winning streak at Creighton, where it didnt win from 1992 to 2010.
That leaves Drake. Yes, Drake. The unassuming Knapp Center is now the hardest place for the Shockers to win, a point hammered home in last seasons triple-overtime loss.
They just played with a lot more intensity, a lot more fire than we did, senior Demetric Williams said. Im really kind of still sick over that three-overtime loss. I want to get in there and tell that group of guys weve got that weve really go to go there and perform.
The Shockers (12-1, 1-0 Missouri Valley Conference) play at Drake (6-6, 0-1) on Wednesday without many good memories in the 7,152-seat arena. WSU is 1-4 there in coach Gregg Marshalls tenure. Tough games are nothing new even WSUs 2006 Missouri Valley Conference champions needed a last-second tip-in by Paul Miller to win at Drake.
WSU will again be short-handed without injured starters Carl Hall (broken thumb), Ron Baker (stress facture) and Evan Wessel (broken pinky). Backup center Chadrack Lufile will be a game-time decision. He missed Tuesdays practice with back spasms.
Most teams play better at home. Drakes boost seems more pronounced than most teams, especially against the Shockers. It is the only MVC team with a winning record (2-1) at home against WSU the past three seasons.
Atmosphere plays a role, in the mind of WSU coach Gregg Marshall. WSU played Drake on a Saturday or Sunday the past five seasons, including senior day for Drakes MVC champions in 2008. The Knapp Center isnt big; it is loud and the fans sit close to the floor. Playing the Bulldogs over holiday break on a Wednesday may take some of the juice out of the home-court edge.
Theyve always been very vocal, Marshall said. This will be different. Im assuming their students wont be there. Im assuming it will be a different crowd.
Drake throws a split personality at the Shockers tough at the Knapp Center and terrible at Koch Arena.
In the past three seasons, the Bulldogs took part in the two biggest turnarounds by any Shocker MVC opponent. In 2009-10, Drake lost by 23 at Koch Arena and won by 14 at the Knapp Center. Last season, WSU lost by seven on the road before winning by 23 at home. WSU owns eight home victories by 20 or more points over MVC opponents the past three seasons. Drake is the only team that managed to split the series.
Last game there, we just lost focus, WSU center Ehimen Orukpe said. We didnt make some key plays, winning plays.
Drake, perhaps more than most teams, thrives on playing at home because it relies so heavily on outside shooting. It ranks second in the MVC from three-point range, making 41 percent.
The Bulldogs are 4-1 at home and are shooting 49.5 percent from three-point range. Away from the Knapp Center, they are making 35.2 percent.
They really stroke it at home, Williams said. Theyre used to their balls, their rims.
Three Bulldogs rank in the Valleys top 10 for three-point accuracy Micah Mason (58.3), Gary Ricks (48.3) and Chris Hines (40.9). Ben Simons is close behind at 37.6 percent and WSU knows how he can take over a game after watching him score 29 points in last seasons 93-86 loss at the Knapp Center.
Simons is the key, Marshall said. You leave him and hes going to burn you. Youve got to be locked in when youre guarding him, as a team, not just as an individual.
WSU is coming off one of its best performances of the season in Sundays 66-41 rout of Northern Iowa. It held the Panthers to 32.6 percent and 3-of-17 shooting from three-point range.
It could use a similar defensive effort against Drake. Orukpe expects Wednesdays game to be more like a typical MVC grinder.
The new players, theyre not used to that Valley kind of play where it comes down to one possession and its a low-scoring game, Orukpe said. They still dont have a good feel for what the Valley is like, the physicality, the gritty, tough, fight through 40 minutes.