TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — No. 11 Wichita State is 11-0 and it’s hard to say when the Shockers might lose again.
If they keep playing with this much calm and composure on the road, it might be a long, long time. The Shockers held off Alabama 72-67 on Tuesday at Coleman Coliseum, extending their school-record unbeaten streak to start a season.
It is WSU’s third road win of the season, more than most of their highly-ranked counterparts. The Shockers are 29-8 the past four seasons on the road and while the names change, the toughness never seems to graduate. On Tuesday, WSU made 25 of 27 free throws and out-rebounded the Tide by 12 to beat back several rallies by a team desperate for a big win.
The Shockers don’t get frazzled in games because, according to guard Fred VanVleet, the coaches do their best to wear them down and push them in practice. Facing a team in different uniforms is easy after two hours in the Koch Arena practice gym with coach Gregg Marshall standing in the middle of the court screaming and demanding more effort, and then still more effort.
“We’ve got a good group of guys that went through a lot last year,” VanVleet said. “You’ve got to give credit to the coaches for what we do every day in practice, because it makes situations like these easy to deal with. We still haven’t played a game that is as tough as our practices are.”
Cleanthony Early, making 11 of 11 free throws led the Shockers with a season-high 26 points. Trevor Releford led Alabama (5-5) with 22 points.
Releford tied the game 58-all with 4:44 to play and then the Shockers put on their clinic in closing. They committed one turnover in that span and their defense didn’t allow a basket as a result. They missed three shots and rebounded two of those misses. They made four of five free throws.
“We know that if we do what Coach tells us to, it’s going to work, basically 100 percent of the time,” forward Darius Carter said. “We just calm down and run what we know.”
The Shockers grabbed two offensive rebounds in a crucial possession in the final 65 seconds to protect a one-point lead. Tekele Cotton rebounded Carter’s miss and restarted the offense. Seconds later, Cotton drove to basket and Alabama’s Jimmie Taylor blocked the shot. Carter snatched the rebound and scored for a 69-66 lead. After two Tide misses, VanVleet made two free throws with 11 seconds remaining for a 71-66 lead.
Alabama’s Retin Obasohan made a foul shot with 8.5 seconds remaining. He missed the second and Cotton rebounded. His free throw with 6.5 seconds to play for a 72-67 lead.
“We think that we’re going to win,” Marshall said. “You have to believe that you’re going to win and you’re to make the plays.”
It didn’t always look that way for WSU, especially after a 10-point lead disappeared in the first half and foul trouble grew.
Wichita State survived foul trouble to lead 33-32 at halftime, mostly thanks to Cotton’s versatility. With Ron Baker, VanVleet and Early sitting with two fouls each, Cotton took over the unfamiliar role of point guard. He broke the Alabama press and ran the offense. He also scored, making six free throws in the final 2:13 after VanVleet joined the other two on the bench.
WSU led 22-19 when VanVleet went out. The Tide made a run, upping their pressure and getting the crowd involved, and led 32-31 on Rodney Cooper’s three with 53 seconds to play. Cotton’s free throws with 45 seconds remaining gave the Shockers back the lead.
VanVleet led WSU with seven points in the first half. Cotton and Early both added six. The Shockers made 12 of 13 free throws and scored 10 fast break points. When the Tide pressed, the Shockers attacked and made seven layups.
Releford, Levi Randolph and Retin Obasohan each scored seven points for Alabama. The Tide made 4 of 10 threes in the first half and 8 of 9 free throws.
Wichita State plays host to North Carolina-Central on Sunday night, then is off until a Dec. 29 home game against Davidson. WSU then opens Missouri Valley Conference play Jan. 2 at Southern Illinois.