Jan. 18 is too early to call the Missouri Valley Conference basketball race.
No. 5 Wichita State handled the other presumed contender on Saturday at packed Koch Arena, smashing Indiana State 68-48.
Both teams entered the game 5-0 in the MVC. All unbeaten records are not created equal and the Shockers (19-0, 6-0 MVC) hammered the Sycamores (14-4, 5-1) back into distant second place with an 11-0 run to start the second half.
“We did not compete,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. “We didn’t give the fans a chance to really go nuts because we didn’t keep it close enough. It’s like the guys knew they were beat and tried to get the game over with.”
WSU’s defense grabbed the momentum early in the second half by forcing turnovers. The Shockers spent the rest of the half proving they are too big, too focused on defense and too efficient on offense for the rest of the Valley. And they’ve got a nasty killer instinct.
“We were taught a lesson by one of the best teams in the country,” Lansing said.
The Shockers said the right things after the game. They will take it one game at a time and not look too far ahead. If they stick to that, it is bad news for the rest of the Valley. Nine teams are counting on catching the Shockers on a bad day.
“We were just focusing on being first in the Valley,” WSU guard Fred VanVleet said. “The next time we play them, the margin we won by won’t matter. They’re a veteran team. We’re going to have to come out next time even harder.”
The rest of the MVC can hope WSU’s dominance is a home phenomenon. The Shocker breezed past Indiana State and Northern Iowa, the teams most likely to give them trouble, at home. On the road, the Shockers fell behind by 19 points before rallying to beat Missouri State.
“I know I’m not looking forward to going to Terre Haute,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “We held serve.”
Ron Baker led WSU (19-0, 6-0 MVC) with 16 points. He left the game briefly in the second half after tweaking his sore left ankle. He returned a few minutes later and played the rest of the game.
VanVleet added 15 points. Dawon Cummings led the Sycamores (14-4, 5-1) with 19 points.
WSU held Indiana State to eight baskets in the second half and 16 of 51 (31.4 percent) for the game. No starter other than Cummings scored more than seven points. WSU stopper Tekele Cotton eliminated Sycamores guard Jake Odum, usually a big-time bother to the Shockers, by holding him to seven meaningless points.
The Shockers didn’t need a big offensive day — 3 of 15 from three-point range — to build a 20-point win. They out-rebounded Indiana State 44-30 and outscored the Sycamores 34-14 in the paint.
“I did not have them prepared to compete like they’re going to need to compete to beat one of the best teams in the country,” Lansing said.
The end came quickly for the Sycamores with a rash of turnovers.
“We had good intensity on the defensive end in the first half, but that’s a good team,” VanVleet said. “We wanted to take it to another level defensively. We were able to get some rebounds and steals and get out early.”
Indiana State’s Justin Gant missed a layup and VanVleet scored for a 33-22 lead. Baker caught Gant with his back turned and stole the ball. Baker’s three-point play gave WSU a 36-22 lead with 17:16 remaining. Chadrack Lufile scored after another turnover to give WSU a 38-22 lead.
The Shockers kept coming. Lansing watched his team cave, letting down on the defensive end as their offense faltered.
Cleanthony Early made two baskets for a 42-22 edge. Indiana State scored its first points of the second half on a free throw with 15:08 to play. Gant’s follow shot gave Indiana State its first basket of the half with 12:15 remaining and WSU up 47-26.
WSU led 31-22 at halftime, thanks to a 12-6 run that closed the half.
VanVleet made 3 of 5 shots to score nine points in the first half, bailing the Shockers out of several shot-clock situations. Baker added eight points. The Shockers made 11 of 24 shots in the first half .
WSU held all-conference guard Jake Odum scoreless until the final minute of the first half. He made four free throws and missed his only shot.
The Shockers are 6-0 in the MVC for the first time since 1964-65. Historical landmarks fall almost every time they take the court. The rest of the MVC appears to be props in this Shocker story.
“To beat the No. 2 team, as they are now, like that, is a statement in itself,” Baker said. “It was a big game, and we all knew that. We know that we can play at this type of level.”
Can anybody else?