Wichita State players watched the video from November wins over Virginia Commonwealth and Iowa and last month’s defeat of Creighton. Without knowing how or why, that energetic, feisty team disappeared and the highlights made that obvious.
“VCU, in the beginning, you could tell it was a team that was hungry,” WSU forward Cleanthony Early said. “We had to get that fight back in us.”
The Shockers, for one game at least, got their edge back with a 79-50 win over Missouri State on Saturday at Koch Arena. They snapped a three-game losing streak with solid performances from the entire roster.
WSU (20-5, 9-4 Missouri Valley Conference) needed one like that badly.
“Last couple days, weeks, have been kind of rough with a bad vibe around here,” senior guard Demetric Williams. “It’s good to get a win so that the vibe can be good and we get back to playing like we can play.”
WSU, ranked No. 22 in the coaches poll, reached the 20-win plateau for the fourth straight season, a first for the program. The shooting problems from the three losses disappeared early in the game and WSU’s defensive effort returned to customary levels.
WSU's good night got better when Illinois State knocked off Creighton 75-72 in Omaha. The loss dropped the 16th-ranked Bluejays into a three-way tie atop the MVC with the Shockers and Indiana State.
Missouri State (7-18, 5-8) lost its fourth straight game to the Shockers and fell to 6-21 at Koch Arena.
“Obviously them coming off three straight losses, they were ready to go,” Bears coach Paul Lusk said. “We had no answers anywhere for them. They have personnel we don’t have.”
The Shockers sliced up MSU’s zone defense from the start, beating it with quick ball movement, passes instead of dribbles and a determination to score inside. Forward Carl Hall posted up strong and scored in the lane on the first two possessions and drew a foul on the third. With that established, the outside shooters took over and WSU made 7 of 11 three-pointers in the first half. It finished with 19 assists and eight turnovers.
The 79 points are WSU’s most since an 82-76 win over Southern Illinois on Jan. 9. It made 29 of 59 shots (49.2 percent) and 9 of 20 threes (45 percent). Cleanthony Early led WSU with 16 points. Nick Wiggins added 11. Malcolm Armstead scored 10 points and handed out five assists with no turnovers.
“The ball wasn’t quite as sticky tonight,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “Sometimes the ball gets a little sticky and doesn’t move quite as well as we would like it to. We had a very nice rythmn and flow and played at a good tempo.”
Defense and rebounding, Shocker staples during their 19-2 start, kept MSU from mounting any rallies. WSU held leading scorer Anthony Downing to nine points, five below his average, on 2-of-7 shooting. The Bears shot 31.4 percent from the field and WSU out-rebounded them 47-22. Freshman Marcus Marshall led MSU with 19 points.
After a slow start to the second half, WSU returned to its first-half form and pulled away. An 8-0 run gave WSU a 53-30 lead with 12:39 to play. Tekele Cotton scored four of those points, starting the run with two free throws and adding a layup for a 51-30 lead.
WSU made fans forget most of its recent problems with a superb first half. The Shockers moved the ball sharply on offense. A tip-dunk by Early gave WSU an 18-14 lead and got the crowd going. Offensive rebounding helped them pull away midway through the half. Early grabbed a missed free throw, coming from the opposite side of the lane, and scored for a 26-20 lead. After a Bears turnover, Hall followed in a miss for a 28-20 lead and Lusk called timeout.
Wiggins’ three-pointer, from an assist by Fred VanVleet, widened the lead to 32-21 and started a 13-6 run to end the half.