The preliminaries are out of the way and No. 16 Wichita State looks equal to expectations after two victories over over-matched opponents.
The Shockers opened the regular season with a 93-50 win over NCAA Division II Emporia State on Saturday afternoon at Koch Arena. The Hornets provided better competition than NAIA Oklahoma Baptist, 73-29 exhibition losers a week earlier. The Shockers didn’t make it a rout until late in the first half, when a run of three-pointers and free throws overwhelmed ESU.
On Monday night (11:59 p.m.) things get tougher when Western Kentucky visits as part of ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon. That starts a stretch of four games in eight days, which includes home games against William and Mary and Tennessee State, and a trip to Tulsa.
“We tried to do a lot of things in preparation for a big week,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “I thought we got that accomplished.”
WSU has done what it can to get ready. Its defense frustrated two lower-level teams. Its offense looks smoother and more explosive than most teams can expect in early November.
The Shockers are pressing almost non-stop and their length and quickness eats into the shot clock and ruins offensive flow. With guards Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker expertly running fast breaks, the Shockers are a threat to turn any turnover or rebound into a rush downcourt for points.
In two games — against lower-level competition — WSU is shooting 50.4 percent with a mere 17 turnovers.
“We’ve got great team chemistry,” forward Nick Wiggins said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that play two positions, some guys even play three positions. It’s just working together, being on time, being on pace.”
Cleanthony Early led WSU with 21 points, seven coming at the foul line. Baker added 17, one off his career-high, on 7-of-9 shooting with a career-high six assists. VanVleet contributed 12 points, a career-high six rebounds and six assists.
The Shockers looked their best when VanVleet and Baker, sometimes together, sometimes in relief of one another, pushed the ball. Late in the first half, Baker found Chadrack Lufile open in the lane on the break, a play resulting in a foul shot. In the second half, Baker hit Early with a long pass for a layup and 59-28 lead. VanVleet, after a miss, kept the ball for a spinning layup that wowed the crowd early in the game.
“You see me run the floor, and Ron and Fred throwing the ball up, it just makes us play even harder knowing that they’re looking at us as options,” Lufile said. “They know what they’re doing.”
WSU shot 52 percent from the field and committed nine turnovers. It made 25 of 33 foul shots, outscoring the Hornets from the line by 17 points. Emporia State committed 23 turnovers, leading to 29 Shocker points.
Terrence Moore, from Heights, led Emporia State with 15 points. The game counted as an exhibition for the Hornets, who open the regular season on Sunday night at Rockhurst. On Friday, ESU defeated UMKC 81-76.
WSU led 28-17 when its offense found another gear. Redshirt freshman Derail Green scored his first points with a long three. Early’s three made it 36-20. Wiggins’s three-point play gave WSU a 39-22 edge and Baker’s three made it 42-22.
The Shockers led 49-26 at halftime after making 16 of 21 free throws, courtesy of 16 Hornet fouls. Early scored 13 points, making 2 of 4 threes and the Shockers made 5 of 12 shots behind the arc.
The Hornets committed 13 first-half turnovers, leading to 17 WSU points.
WSU started the second half on a 15-2 run, going up 64-28 on a basket by Lufile.