Midnight basketball in front of a packed arena sounds exciting. Its too bad the late hour makes for a challenging prep time.
Wichita State players spent the afternoon, early evening and late evening at Koch Arena, killing time in the locker room and the weight room, staring at the clock. Shootaround and video ate up some time, but not enough.
It was like watching paint dry, waiting for the game to come, WSU guard Fred VanVleet said. I took a nap.
Come midnight, the boredom of the wait faded quickly. The 16th-ranked Shockers knocked out Western Kentucky in the second half for a 66-49 victory on Tuesday morning at Koch Arena. The late night/early morning started with the reveal of the 2013 Final Four banner and continued through enough dunks and blocked shots to rev up the crowd of 10,506.
Coach Gregg Marshall worried for more than a month that the late hour would result in empty seats for the ESPN2 cameras. He didnt need to worry. The student section filled up an hour before tip and the banner dropped to a full house of standing, cheering, smiling fans.
The crowd was awesome, Marshall said. The place was rocking. It was very, very cool to see that place packed at 2 a.m.
In the Marshalls mind, the banner is the final signal that last season is done and it is time for this team to build its own identity. That identity wont be much different. Tough defense. Smart offense.
The Shockers (2-0) took advantage of Westerns inexperience in the backcourt with constant pressure. The Hilltoppers (0-1) started a freshman walk-on at point guard with senior Brandon Harris out with a foot injury.
After a sluggish first half, WSUs offense improved, helped by Hilltoppers turnovers in the second half.
We were off-kilter in the offense in the first half, Marshall said. Ron (Baker) took one shot. Cle (Early) took two. There was very little rhythm.
After a close first half, WSUs press forced three turnovers early in the second half, leading to an 11-0 run that the Hilltoppers couldnt overcome. WSU forced 16 turnovers and scored 18 points from those mistakes. It also outscored Western by 11 points at the foul line.
We didnt defend as well as they did, Western Kentucky forward Aaron Adeoye said. They stayed disciplined and we didnt we shied away from it and they were more physical than us. On the defensive end they were a little more aggressive.
VanVleet tied a career-high with 17 points. Kadeem Coleby made 6 of 11 shots for 13 points, 11 in the second half. He missed a lob on the games first play and went 1 for 5 in the first half. In the second half, his teammates set him up for easy baskets.
T.J. Price and Aleksej Rostov both scored 12 for Western Kentucky, which shot 29 percent (18 of 63) from the field and 7 of 30 from three-point range. The Shockers blocked 12 shots, three each by Coleby, Baker and Chadrack Lufile. While WSU gave up 20 offensive rebounds, its shot-blockers limited the damage and Western scored 12 second-chance points.
Shot-blocking, now, is going to be a premium because you cant take a charge, Marshall said. Shot-blocking saved our behinds a couple times because we did not clear space and rebound with two hands like I want.
The Shockers started the second half with a 9-0 run that forced a Western timeout. Colebys dunk off a lob pass from VanVleet got the crowd roaring. After the timeout, he swatted away a shot, resulting in a basket by Tekele Cotton for a 41-28 lead and more ruckus from the fans.
The Hilltoppers finally scored with 15:40 to play on a basket by Rostov, cutting WSUs lead to 41-30.
WSU made its next burst when Western Kentucky switched to a zone. It slowed the Shockers momentarily. Then VanVleet drove into the lane and found Nick Wiggins in the corner for a three and a 49-36 lead. VanVleets steal and free throws made it 51-36.
Fouls became a major issue for Western Kentucky in the second half with four players, three starters, saddled with three midway through the half.
Defenses ruled in the first half, with both teams shooting below 40 percent. Western Kentucky committed 10 turnovers, WSU eight.
The Shockers led 6-0, but the Hilltoppers made it close the rest of the first half.
VanVleets layup gave WSU a 17-12 lead, but Westerns 7-0 run gave it a 21-17 lead. T.J. Price started the run with a basket. Ben Lawsons dunk gave Western an 18-17 lead and Kevin Kaspars three made it 2-17. After a basket by Early, Price made a three over Tekele Cottons hand for a 24-19 lead.
Fouls and a press helped WSU regain the lead. Early made four straight free throws to put the Shockers up 25-24. VanVleets steal and layup gave WSU a 27-24 lead. VanVleet turned another turnover into a basket nine second before the half. Price responded with a three at the buzzer to make the score 30-28.
VanVleet led WSU with 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. Early added seven and Lufile six, two off his career high. While Lufile scored effectively, posts Darius Carter and Coleby combined to miss eight of nine shots.
Price made 3 of 6 threes and scored 11 in the first half. Western ended the half with 12 fouls, helping WSU outscore the Hilltoppers nine to one at the line.
Percentages: FG .286, FT .500. 3-Point Goals: 7-30, .233 (Price 3-8, Kaspar 2-7, Dickerson 1-3, Rostov 1-5, deoye 0-1, Snipes 0-2, B. Price 0-2, Hulsey 0-2). Team Rebounds: 7. Blocked Shots: 3 (Fant, Adeoye, Lawson). Turnovers: 17 (Fant 4, T.J. Price 3, B. Price 2, Dickerson 2, Rostov 2, Hulsey 2, Kaspar, Adeoye). Steals: 3 (T.J. Price, Hulsey, Dickerson). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .462, FT .682. 3-Point Goals: 3-11, .273 (Baker 1-2, Wiggins 1-2, VanVleet 1-2, Cotton 0-1, Early 0-4). Team Rebounds: 5. Blocked Shots: 12 (Baker 3, Coleby 3, Lufile 3, VanVleet, Cotton, Wessel). Turnovers: 12 (Lufile 3, VanVleet 2, Baker 2, Early 2, Cotton, Wessel, Carter). Steals: 9 (VanVleet 4, Cotton 2, Lufile, BAker, Early). Technical Fouls: None.
A10,506. OfficialsDon Daily, Bo Boroski, Hal Lusk.