It’s fitting that Creighton and Wichita State will be tied atop the Missouri Valley Conference basketball standings when they meet Saturday afternoon in Omaha.
Winner takes all.
That’s the scenario after Wednesday night’s expected Creighton win at Bradley and the Shockers’ unexpected senior night loss at home to Evansville.
Has any team been more of a thorn in the Shockers’ sides than Evansville? The Purple Aces beat WSU in a physical, black and blue game, 59-56, to sweep the season series.
The loss spoiled senior night. It spoiled the Shockers’ chances of clinching a share for the Valley title. It spoiled Gregg Marshall’s 50th birthday. It was a dozen eggs three weeks past their expiration date.
“Disappointing,’’ Marshall said. “And that’s an understatement.’’
Now WSU has to go into a hostile environment to play a team that hopes to avenge an earlier loss to the Shockers. Creighton has been fighting inconsistency since that two-point defeat at WSU, but pulled it together with a one-sided win at Bradley.
The Bluejays will be riding a high; WSU will be riding a low, one that included 38-percent shooting against Evansville. The Shockers lost despite a 42-23 rebounding advantage – 18-3 on the offensive boards — and that’s not easy to do.
But poor passes to the interior and an early offensive blitz by the Aces were big differences. And the Shockers could never get into offensive rhythm.
Oh, and there was a guy by the name of Colt Ryan wearing an Evansville uniform.
Ryan is the fastest gun in the Valley and he was killing it like an episode of “Justified” in the first half, when he had 18 points.
After a slow start to the second half, thanks to some tenacious defense by WSU sophomore Tekele Cotton, Ryan finally got it going with drives to the basket. He finished with 29 points and moved into ninth place among Valley scorers with 2,142 career points.
“Very good shooter,’’ said Shocker senior guard Demetric Williams, whose career has run concurrently with that of Ryan. “Give him a little bit of space, he’s going to make the shot. You’ve got to limit his touches and make it as difficult as possible.’’
Too bad the Shockers didn’t have a shooter like Ryan. Instead, WSU made 4 of 19 three-point shots and Carl Hall, of all people, missed the last one after an inbounds play with 4.7 seconds left and the Shockers down by three.
A set play for Hall, who had shot only one three-pointer – a miss – all season?
No, no, no.
Hall got his hands on the ball by accident, then had to step back past the three-point line before launching his shot. It wasn’t close.
“I would have rather gone to Nick (Wiggins),’’ Marshall said. “But he had not been in the game.’’
That’s true. Wiggins, who played 13 minutes in the first half and made 1 of 3 three-point shots, hadn’t moved a muscle in the second half. And whatever the reason is for that, it’s a shame.
“I thought the game was a little physical for him,’’ Marshall said. “He didn’t play well against Evansville the first time (no points in 16 minutes) and he likes the game a little more vanilla. He couldn’t get open on the wing to run our stuff.’’
Wiggins, a junior-college transfer in his first season at WSU, is easily the Shockers’ best three-point shooter, though. Even on a night when he didn’t have it, he probably had as good a chance at making a big shot there as anyone else.
But if Wiggins hasn’t convinced his coach that he can play in every kind of game, including the ones that are physical, then he would be served well to develop a stronger physique in the offseason. Because the kid can be an offensive force, a skill too valuable to be forced to sit because a game doesn’t suit his style.
Marshall watched the play he called disintegrate and took his medicine.
“Maybe senior night was a distraction,’’ he said. “In 15 years of coaching on senior night, though, I’m 14-1, 13-2 at the worst. I don’t know if there have been any other senior nights quite like this.’’
Two of the Shocker seniors, guards Williams and Malcolm Armstead, didn’t score in the first half. Hall had two points. The only senior who had a running motor early was 7-foot Ehimen Orukpe, who played like he wanted to be remembered.
Instead, the game turned out to be one to forget.
No time to sulk, though. Creighton awaits as Wichita State pushes to win its eighth Missouri Valley Conference championship and second in a row, something the Shockers haven’t done since 1965.
Evansville will be forgotten if the Shockers can pull one out in Omaha. If not, this one will linger like the stench of rotten eggs.