ST. LOUIS — Quarterfinal victories are routine for Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. Now for the real obstacle, the one that regularly seems to frustrate the Shockers and their fans in the Scottrade Center.
Second-seeded Wichita State defeated seventh-seeded Missouri State 69-59 on Friday. The Shockers (25-7) move into the semifinals, a traditional pit of despair for highly seeded WSU teams. It is 1-6 in semifinal games since 2003. Four times, it failed to advance past Saturday as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.
WSU’s first priority on Friday was to end a two-game losing streak in which its defense faltered. With its identity restored, the Shockers can take on the rest of the tournament with a newly fortified bench and continued rebounding dominance.
“We’re getting back to the roots, back to defensive intensity,” forward Jake White said. “Everyone is starting to communicate again and we’re really playing well.”
Missouri State (11-21) stayed in the game at the foul line, making 23 free throws. The Shockers shut down their half-court offense by keeping the Bears out of the lane and forcing them to shoot a lot of guarded three-pointers. They missed 14 of 18 and shot 37.2 percent from the field. While they pushed WSU until the final minutes, the Bears couldn’t get closer than six points in the final six minutes.
The Shockers out-rebounded the Bears 43-24, grabbing 20 offensive rebounds and scoring 22 second-chance points. Carl Hall led WSU with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Ron Baker, returning from a stress fracture that sidelined him since Dec. 13, scored 15 points in 19 minutes.
“We simply couldn’t keep them off the glass,” MSU coach Paul Lusk said. “Their best offense sometimes is a missed shot and it certainly was true today.”
Valley Freshman of the Year Marcus Marshall led MSU with 25 points. He made 13 of 16 free throws and 4 of 10 threes.
Baker energized WSU’s offense with his shooting — 3 of 5 from behind the arc — and his passing. The Shockers left most everything else to Hall and Jake White, who pushed the smaller Bears around in the lane. White scored nine points and grabbed eight rebounds, four on the offensive end. Several times they teamed up to rebound the other’s miss and keep possessions alive until one of them scored.
“(Hall) goes to the glass every single time, so normally he brings two or three people with him just to try and box him out,” White said. “That leaves the weak side open a lot and I just capitalized on that.”
The Bears, despite tired legs from Thursday’s game, stayed close and Marshall’s three tied the game 46-all with 7:56 remaining. Hall’s offensive rebound led to a jumper for White to start an 8-0 run. Fred VanVleet added a three and Baker’s layup, on an assist from White, made it 54-46 with 5:45 to play.
Big plays from reserves — White, VanVleet and Baker — helped WSU all night. Its bench produced 36 points, even with leading scorer Cleanthony Early returning to the starting lineup.
“We were deeper, because we added Ron Baker back to the fold,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “We had tremendous production from guys who played 10 to 15 minutes a game. Tonight, they played a little more.”
The Shockers fell behind early in the first half, a victim of poor shooting. Their defense and rebounding took over late in the half and the Shockers led 29-24 at the break.
WSU close the half on an 8-1 run. Nick Wiggins tied the game 23-all on a jumper by Wiggins. Baker scored on an assist from Malcolm Armstead and Wiggins’ runner gave the Shockers a 27-23 lead. After a Bears foul shot, Hall’s putback made it 29-24.
WSU missed all eight of its three-pointers in the first half, but their size advantage paid off with a 12-rebound edge and 10 second-chance points on nine offensive rebounds. Hall scored seven points, grabbing four offensive boards.
The bench gave the Shockers a big lift. Marshall went to his reserves early in the half. They scored 17 points, and that was without Early’s usual contribution, since he started.