SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — It looked like Wichita States unbeaten streak would end at 16 Saturday night. Missouri State rained down shots in the first half and built a 42-24 lead before a close-to-sellout JQH Arena crowd that was part frenzied and part mystified.
And then it got worse for the Shockers.
After cutting the lead to seven in the blink of an eye to start the second half, Missouri State got it going again. And the Bears led 54-35 with 11:48 to play.
What, pray tell, would Wichita State do?
We do what we do, man, Shocker point guard Fred VanVleet said in a locker room that was a mix of defiance and jubilation. You know? Look around. Look around and see whos in here. Thats how we did it. We got tough guys, man. Thats what it comes down to.
From VanVleets exuberant and hyped-up words, you can tell what happened here.
Wichita State came all the way back to win a game that will require years of study to determine the exact reasons for the rally.
The Shockers won 72-69 in overtime. By the end, there were 20 rubber legs on the floor, players exhausted by the magnitude and difficulty of the game.
Wichita State put its head down literally to win this one. Afflicted by a poor shooting night, the Shockers decided to charge to the basket and, they hoped, draw fouls.
And thats what happened.
WSU shot 40 free throws to 19 for Missouri State. Twelve of the Shockers final 16 points came at the free-throw line.
But it was a drive and basket by VanVleet with 47 seconds remaining in regulation that will be the focal point of a 45-minute war for Missouri State fans.
The Shocker guard, forced to do something he wasnt looking to do, charged toward the basket. He bumped into Missouri States Nathan Scheer as he was getting off a shot. A whistle was blown.
Scheer was called for a blocking foul. The basket counted and even though VanVleet missed the ensuing free throw, WSU pulled to within a point.
A different call there and who knows?
When teams are down and with these new rules this year, youve got to drive the basketball, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. Put the onus on the officials to make the call one way or another. Sometimes we got the call tonight and sometimes we didnt.
VanVleet, who had 16 points, scored 11 in a row for the Shockers during the final 1:48 of regulation and the first 4:52 of overtime.
His shot wasnt falling, so he got to the free-throw line, where he made 9 of 13.
Cleanthony Early was 4 of 14 from the field, but he got to the free-throw line and made 13 of 14.
WSU had to find some way to dig back into this game, and the Shockers were able to do so standing still at the line with time frozen. They shot 31 of their 40 free throws in the second half.
When its a 19-point lead with 11 minutes and change, it doesnt look real good, Marshall said. But in college basketball today, thats a lot of time. We finally got it to seven with something like 6:39 to go and during that next media timeout I reminded the guys that it was the very same scenario we had against Gonzaga in the (NCAA) tournament the previous year.
There is immense resolve in this team. And it didnt hurt that Missouri State shot 25.9 percent in the second half after making 65.2 percent of its shots in the first.
Its not easy to beat the sixth-ranked team in the country. All kinds of demons started to swim through the Bears heads as they gasped to hold off WSU.
Theres nothing more gratifying than winning a game like this, unless its for all the marbles in the tournament or something like that, VanVleet said. I know you feel a lot better when youre on the winning end. I know theyre going to be sick for a while because of this one. Probably until they play their next game.
The Shockers were understandably ecstatic. They had to fight with everything they had to get this one in a hostile arena with fans who were planning their postgame celebration.
But before they could get their beer on ice, the Shockers spoiled their party.
Its about playing tough, playing hard, said Early, who had 22 points and 14 rebounds. We just believed that we belonged and that were supposed to win that game. A whole bunch of guys rallied together.
The unbeaten season continues. The winning streak gets bumped to 17.
Missouri State couldnt get the Shockers, not even with a 19-point lead. Who knows who will?