DES MOINES — Tekele Cotton scored Wichita State’s last basket, fitting only because it came after he broke up a pass intended for Drake’s Ben Simons and grabbed the ball before driving and scoring.
The second part of that sequence tells more of the story than the first. Cotton led a lockdown defensive effort by the Shockers in a 75-63 win over Drake on Wednesday at the Knapp Center. He scored 10 points, but should remember the night for his work limiting Simons to eight points, seven below his average and 21 fewer than he scored in last season’s triple-overtime win over WSU at the Knapp Center. Cotton, with help from Demetric Williams, kept the ball out of Simons’ hands. He took one shot in the first half and made one three-pointer late in the second. In between, the Shockers erased a superb shooter who averaged 25 points and made 10 of 18 threes in two meetings last season.
“From being here last year, we saw that he is definitely a scorer,” Cotton said. “I just wanted to be on his toes when he gets the ball, every time.”
WSU went with a simple plan on Simons, a 6-foot-8 forward with a beautiful jump shot.
“We just weren’t going to leave him,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “We basically knew what he was trying to do and when he was trying to do it, and beat him to his spots.”
WSU (13-1, 2-0 Missouri Valley Conference) stepped all over most of Drake’s offensive plans. Drake entered the game making 41 percent from three-point range, sixth nationally, and 49 percent at home. Those numbers came against teams that don’t defend with WSU’s quickness and intensity. Drake (6-7, 0-2) made 7 of 25 threes, 2 of 12 in the second half. Nineteen turnovers led to 29 points for the Shockers.
“We played a really physical team, one of the best defensive teams in the country,” Drake coach Mark Phelps said. “They’ve done this to just about every opponent.”
What WSU hasn’t done frequently is bury teams from behind the arc. Wednesday, its drives and passing created no-pressure shots and the Shockers cashed them in. They made 12 of 25 threes (48 percent), their second-best effort this season.
“We were spreading them out and dribble-penetrating and getting guys open,” Marshall said. “I don’t know if we took a bad one. It was great.”
WSU’s Nick Wiggins scored a season-high 18 points, making 4 of 5 threes. Malcolm Armstead made 4 of 6 threes, including two daggers in the final 10 minutes that kept Drake’s rallies brief. Cleanthony Early, limited to 13 minutes by foul troubles, made 3 of 3 threes and scored 11 points.
“They kept leaving me open,” Wiggins said. “I was feeling good after I made my first three shots.”
Early, limited by fouls to five minutes in the first half, made two threes early in the second half. His second gave WSU a 40-34 lead. Ehimen Orukpe’s follow shot made it 42-34 and capped an 8-2 run to start the half. Early soon picked up his third foul and returned to the bench, but WSU kept the momentum with its defense.
Cotton grabbed a loose ball and scored for a 45-35 lead. The Shockers followed that with a 7-3 run. When Drake cut the lead to 10, the Shockers responded with threes by Fred VanVleet and Armstead to go up 67-51. Drake put a little pressure on by cutting the margin to eight points with 1:01 to play. Armstead missed the front end of a one-and-one, then took the rebound away from a Bulldog. Cotton made two free throws to push the lead back to 10 with 50 seconds to play. His steal and layup followed for a 12-point lead.
Wednesday’s full schedule of MVC games felt unusually significant for early January. Illinois State and Northern Iowa, considered contenders in preseason polls, both lost and are 0-2 in MVC games. Indiana State is 2-0 with a win at Northern Iowa. So is WSU, even with three starters out with injuries.