Wichita State and Creighton spent the past six weeks separating themselves from the rest of the Missouri Valley Conference. It took the Shockers two hours to separate themselves from the Bluejays.
WSU routed No. 17 Creighton 89-68 on Saturday in front of 18,735 fans, the largest crowd in Creighton history. The Shockers chanted “MVC, MVC” in a locker room filled with fans after earning a two-game lead with three to play.
No, it’s not over. But the Shockers (22-4, 13-2 MVC) made an air-tight case to be considered the Valley’s best team with a well-rounded demolition. Senior Ben Smith ended the news conference by reminding everyone he leaves Omaha unbeaten in the arena, producing a laugh and a fist bump from coach Gregg Marshall.
“I couldn’t have asked for more,” Marshall said. “It was a no-doubter.”
The Bluejays (21-5, 11-4) lost their third straight game and got a scolding from their coach for a lack of fight. The Shockers shot 58.2 percent by driving past defenders for layups and making 8 of 16 three-pointers. They out-rebounded the Bluejays by 14 and held their MVC-leading offense 12 points below its average.
“Our defense was atrocious,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “It was an embarrassment. Wichita took advantage of a lot of our weaknesses.”
The Shockers didn’t act surprised.
Creighton won the first meeting, 68-61 on Dec. 31 at Koch Arena. The Shockers missed 19 of 26 three-pointers and didn’t think it possible to shoot that poorly again.
“I felt like I let my team down the first time we played them, and I knew I could get to the basket because they don’t really take too many charges,” WSU guard Joe Ragland said.
WSU didn’t even need a big game from center Garrett Stutz, who played 13 minutes due to foul trouble. Ragland scored 24 points, 17 in the second half. Smith scored 22, 15 in the first half to help build a 49-36 lead.
“They just took it right at us,” Bluejays guard Grant Gibbs said. “They scored in the paint all night.”
The Shockers broke Creighton with two impressive scoring runs that summarized the game.
Creighton, after trailing by 10, cut the lead to 33-28 on two free throws by Gregory Echenique. Smith answered with two free throws, starting WSU on a streak of seven scores on seven possessions. Smith provided the final points, dropping in a stepback three over Doug McDermott for a 49-36 halftime lead.
The Shockers pulled away again in the second half, going up 70-51 on another Smith basket over McDermott. The Bluejays took one more swing at igniting the crowd with four straight points to get within 15 points.
Plenty of time, Greg McDermott thought.
This time, the Shockers scored on their next eight possessions to finish off the Bluejays. Demetric Williams silenced the crowd with a three-point play and then Ragland took over. He made a 15-foot jumper for a 75-58 lead. His layup to beat the shot-clock made it 81-63.
“We didn’t have an answer for Ragland in the second half,” Greg McDermott said.
Marshall cleared his bench in the final minutes, allowing the team and 250-or-so WSU fans a chance to celebrate. WSU won by double digits in Omaha for a second straight season, an accomplishment that seemed impossible before it broke a 17-game losing streak here last season.
By then, many of the Creighton fans had departed, with their voices intact. WSU refused to let the crowd roar into a factor.
“It’s their home court, and once you get the crowd into it they might start hitting shots and getting the calls,” Smith said. “We just tried to keep them quiet.”