CARBONDALE, Ill. — Long scoring droughts. Opponents celebrating wildly. Opponents making the winning plays. These scenes are becoming painfully familiar for Wichita State, which lost its third game in a row on Tuesday. This one is hard to explain.
Last-place Southern Illinois upset the Shockers 64-62 at SIU Arena, moving the panic-meter from slump to collapse for a team ranked No. 15 nationally not too long ago. SIU ended a six-game losing streak by breaking 60 points for the first time since Jan. 15.
SIU Arena, where WSU had won three straight, seemed the perfect spot for the Shockers to get well after losses to Indiana State and Northern Iowa. Instead, the Shockers, ranked No. 22 in the coaches poll, are desperately searching for answers and falling out of the Missouri Valley Conference race.
“We’ll have to try to regroup, somehow,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “We really played well, got up 14 or 15. Then we stopped guarding at the end of the first half.”
The Shockers (19-5, 8-4 MVC) departed angry about a no-call and a goaltending call on Ehimen Orukpe that gave SIU (9-14, 2-10) the winning basket with two seconds to play. SIU guard Jalen Pendleton bulled his way into the lane, knocking over WSU’s Demetric Williams, before lofting a shot from about 10 feet. Orukpe blocked it and the officials called goaltending to break the 62-all tie.
“I was going to go for (the block) earlier, but I tried to wait for the charge, to see if they were going to call the charge, before I blocked it,” Orukpe said. “I think I hit before its peak.”
So did Marshall, who pegged the sarcasm meter with his assessment.
“I thought it was a great call,” he said.
WSU’s Carl Hall missed a desperation shot at the buzzer, while Marshall tried to call timeout. SIU fans didn’t storm the court, as Northern Iowa’s did on Saturday. They did celebrate loudly and coach Barry Hinson hugged players at midcourt, pumped his fist at the fans and charged into the student section to share his biggest victory in a trying season.
“The best feeling is walking off that floor and seeing our fans and seeing how excited they were, and walking in that locker room and seeing those kids jump around,” Hinson said. “We just had a good week of therapy.”
Demetric Williams led WSU with 15 points and Tekele Cotton added 10 off the bench. The Shockers shot 46.8 percent from the floor and made 8 of 16 three-pointers, ending a two-game shooting slump. Cleanthony Early, who scored 39 points in a win over SIU last month, scored seven and played only 21 minutes, again limited by fouls. Turnovers, as they did against Northern Iowa, hurt. WSU committed 14, leading to 16 SIU points.
Guard T.J. Lindsay led the Salukis with 14 points. The Shockers held SIU to 42 percent shooting. The Salukis compensated by outscoring them 12-3 at the line in the second half and 15-10 for the game.
“We had a little defensive breakdown, but for the most part I felt the guys in that locker room played hard,” Williams said.
While the Shockers didn’t get a friendly whistle late, they will soon realize it didn’t need to come to that. They led 33-17 in the first half and nodded off, giving SIU life by giving up an 18-3 run. They led 60-58 and had the ball before turning it over on a shot-clock violation. They led 62-60 and allowed Pendleton, a freshman backup who hadn’t scored in the past two games, to drive the lane and score with a spin move to tie it 62-all.
Pendleton finished off the Shockers with SIU’s final six points, making plays when the Shockers didn’t.
“He probably doesn’t know any better and that’s probably to his benefit in that game,” Hinson said. “Just go do what you do, son. We put Jalen in to make a defensive play, and sure enough he did and got us points.”
WSU is used to being the team that makes those plays. It is used to going on the road and quieting crowds. Now, the Shockers don’t seem to know what to do next.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to find a way to win,” guard Tekele Cotton said. “It’s a mental thing and it’s a physical thing. We’ve go to come together, we’ve got to gel. We’ve got to be brothers.”
WSU solved all its problems in the first 15 minutes of the first half. Then new ones popped up.
With Hall back in the starting lineup and Nick Wiggins debuting, the Shockers hit high gear offensively against the MVC’s worst defensive team. They broke out to an 11-4 lead by making their first four shots and kept going. Cotton hit back-to-back threes to make it 23-12, part of a 16-0 run capped by Jake White’s layup for a 29-12 lead. Wiggins made two free throws with 5:33 remaining to give the Shockers a 33-17 lead.
All seemed right for WSU.
SIU cut the lead to 33-22 and then WSU turned the ball over on four of five possessions, one an offensive foul on Hall. SIU took advantage with a 14-0 run, fueled by eight points by T.J. Lindsay. WSU’s drought continued until Hall made a free throw with 1:22 to play. Wiggins made two more foul shots with 47.1 remaining. The Shockers, who made 12 of 20 shots in the half, didn’t make a field goal in the final 5:57.
SIU ended the half on a 18-3 run to trail 36-35 at halftime.
“If (Lindsay) doesn’t get going in the first half, we’re not in the ballgame,” Hinson said.