For all the frustrations at home this season, Wichita State got the ending it wanted.
The Shockers defeated Creighton 67-65 on Wednesday at Koch Arena on Aaron Ellis’ bank shot with 1.5 seconds remaining. Five seniors went out winners in their final regular-season home game. WSU (23-6, 14-3 Missouri Valley Conference) remains tied for first place with Missouri State.
The fact Creighton was the victim of a last-second shot? That made the night that much sweeter. In a rivalry marked by close games, the Bluejays usually play the role of heartbreakers.
“The good guys won this time,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said.
The reward for Marshall’s guys is the MVC’s first winner-take-all game for first place since 1985. The Shockers play at Missouri State on Saturday.
“I can’t wait,” WSU senior J.T. Durley said, wearing a black T-shirt that read CRUSH Creighton. “It’s for all the marbles.”
Creighton (17-13, 9-8) almost knocked WSU into second place. The Bluejays stuck with the Shockers by pounding the ball inside to bruising center Gregory Echenique in the second half.
The Shockers had lost four games at home, three by three points and one by a single point. This game exhibited many of the same traits. WSU trailed at halftime. It couldn’t pull away in the second half, and the pressure and tension mounted. Playing in front of 10,506 anxious fans can be a burden.
“You can never lose your composure,” WSU guard Joe Ragland said. “We had to stay calm.”
Fortunately for WSU, Ragland did just that. With the game tied 65-all, coach Gregg Marshall put the game in Ragland’s hands with 33.1 seconds to play. He ran the clock down to 10 seconds before Marshall told him to go, running a play called baseline 32. Creighton blanketed Durley, the first option, leaving Ragland to create. He drove to the baseline, under the basket, was stopped, and somehow found Ellis through the Creighton defense. Ellis banked in a right-handed shot from a few feet away.
“Joe was aggressive and went baseline,” Ellis said. “My defender helped, and I dove to the basket. Kiss it off the glass.”
Ragland, with few options, was happy to see Ellis move to get open.
“I always tell (Ellis), if I drive, just dive to the basket and I’ll find you,” Ragland said. “It kicked in at the right time. He dove right to the basket. He got a layup for the game.”
Creighton guard Antoine Young watched it unfold and wasn’t sure how Ragland found Ellis.
“I thought he had nowhere to throw the ball,” Young said. “Then it opened up.”
Creighton called timeout. Doug McDermott’s desperation turnaround from around 28 feet bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
Ragland started WSU’s final push with a three-pointer for a 63-61 lead with 3:31 to play. Toure Murry gave WSU a 65-63 lead with 2:36 to play. Then the Shockers offense went stagnant with a series of forced shots. Echenique tied the game 65-all. But McDermott missed the front end of a one-and-one with 33.1 seconds to play, setting the stage for Ellis’ basket.
The Shockers stumbled through the first half, letting chances to build a lead slip away. They went up 14-9, then turned the ball over twice on offensive fouls to help the Bluejays run off six unanswered points. Up 21-18, David Kyles’ three-point rolled around the rim and spun out.
Ellis’ dunk gave WSU a 23-20 lead, but it came up empty on the next two possessions. Creighton grabbed 28-24 lead on a basket by Antoine Young.
WSU closed the half on a downer, started by a lazy entry pass by Ben Smith. Darryl Ashford intercepted the pass, intended for J.T. Durley. After a timeout, Young made a spinning jumper from the baseline to give Creighton a 35-32 halftime lead.
The Bluejays made 4 of 9 threes in the first half.