Defenses sent Wichita State guard Tekele Cotton a message in late January: Get in the gym and practice shooting.
The biggest insult defenses can throw at a player is to ignore him. The scouting report on Cotton told defenders to invite him to shoot and it worked for several games. Cottons performance in recent games should trigger an update.
People have been playing off of me, and Im considered to not be a shooter, Cotton said. My personality, I want to prove that I can do it. Im just spending time in the gym, as much as I can.
WSU (21-5, 10-4 Missouri Valley Conference) will need everybody contributing on its two-game road trip, starting Sunday at Illinois State (16-10, 7-7). On Tuesday, WSU plays at third-plpace Indiana State. By Tuesday night, the Shockers could be firmly in control of the MVC race or in third. Its NCAA Tournament resume could grow stronger and away from the dreaded 8-9 seed profile or continue its slide.
After wins against two of the Valleys weakest defensive teams, Wichita States offense recovered some of its confidence. Cottons mood should be surging after he made 3 of 4 shots, 2 of 3 three-pointers, in Wednesdays 71-56 win over Drake. He is 10 of 14 in his past three games and 6 of 9 from three-point range. Cottons defense keeps him on the floor. He can play more minutes when his shooting helps open up the lane and stretch defenses, helping the Shockers get the ball to their big men.
Hes worked on his game, WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. He was embarrassed by the fact nobody was guarding him. Thats kind of humbling, when youre a 6-foot-2 guard and people are backing off you.
Assistant coaches Chris Jans and K.T. Turner worked with Cotton, reminding him to shoot while balanced and follow through.
Just basic fundamentals, confidence and repetition, Cotton said.
Illinois State should be full of confidence after turning around its season. The Redbirds, expected to be contend for the MVC title, started conference play 0-6. Since then, they are 7-1. On their current four-game win streak, Illinois State scored 70 or more points in each and won at 75-72 at then-No. 16 Creighton. That miserable start showed the Redbirds the importance of playing defense and the importance of guard Tyler Brown.
In their past seven wins, Illinois State is holding opponents to 38.8 percent shooting. Drake and Creighton, both playing at home, are the only teams to pass 62 points in that span.
It starts with defense, Redbirds coach Dan Muller said earlier this month. Whats helped us guard better? Weve played harder. Its not really rocket science.
WSU defeated Illinois State 74-62 on Jan. 16, part of that 0-6 start. Brown, in his first game after a one-game suspension, scored 14 points in 26 minutes off the bench. He scored 20 or more five times since, including a streak of three in a row. Brown, last weeks MVC player of the week, is averaging 24.6 points and shooting 46 percent (23 of 50) from the field and 40 percent (8 of 20) from three-point range in his past three games.