TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Correction: A previous version of this story had a missing word in this quote by Gregg Marshall: I know that its not over, and weve got to win at least one more game.
Two road wins in three nights tells the rest of the Missouri Valley Conference that Wichita State is serious about winning back-to-back titles. The Shockers didnt win just any road games they beat the Valleys hottest team on Sunday and backed that up with Tuesdays 66-62 win at Indiana State.
We control our own destiny, and thats a good position to be in, WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. I know that its not over, and weve got to win at least one more game.
Tuesdays win maintains a one-game lead over Creighton for WSU (23-5, 12-4 MVC) with two conference games remaining. It can clinch at least a share of the title against Evansville on Feb. 27 at Koch Arena.
If that happens, the Shockers will look back on wins over Illinois State and Indiana State (16-11, 9-7) as the races turning point. In both, they needed to survive a tough defensive effort by the home team and grit their way to a close victory.
WSU last won back-to-back MVC titles in 1964 and 1965, a fact the players are well aware of. They are even more tenacious about defending the programs recent stature atop the conference.
This program, pretty much, believes that every year were going to be first, senior Demetric Williams said. Thats our ultimate goal, nothing less.
This one didnt come much easier than Sundays one-point miracle at Illinois State. WSU needed to make six straight free throws in the final 41 seconds to holf off Indiana States frantic attempts at its improbable comeback.
Williams made two with 41 seconds to play for a 62-55 lead. After Indiana States R.J. Mahurin converted a four-point play fouled by Cleanthony Early on a three Williams made two more with 33 seconds remaining.
Indiana States Dawon Cummings sank a long three to cut the lead to 64-62 with 25 seconds to play. The Shockers, after a timeout, passed to Early, who survived a trap in backcourt, drawing a foul call while he tried to elbow his way through.
Crazy moment, Early said. I didnt know what they were going to call.
He made both free throws for a 66-62 lead with 18 seconds to play. Indiana State missed two shots in the final 12 seconds. Early, an 80-percent foul shooter, misssed two early in the game and one with 53 seconds to play. Shooting into the student section, most wearing white shirts and holding big heads of celebrities such as Taylor Swift and David Spade, he regrouped.
I was rushing a couple and they came off my hand a little weird, he said. I kind of calmed down, and everybody was telling me to calm down. They see me shoot free throws all the time, so they know.
WSU set the stage with two bursts earlier in the half. Indiana State took a 42-40 lead with a 6-0 run and got the crowd on its feet. The Shockers responded with their own 6-0 run, helped by three turnovers, to go up 46-42 with 8:19 to play.
That sequence kept WSU from falling too far back. It finally knocked the Sycamores back with another 6-0 run, this one to produce a 57-51 lead with 4:04 to play. Carl Halls three-point play and Malcolm Armsteads three off a Halls screen gave WSUs its biggest lead.
Early scored 19 points and Armstead added 18.
Manny Arop led the Sycamores with 17 points.