No. 4 Wichita State remains unbeaten, its toughest test behind it, but not without plenty of anxiety.
The Shockers defeated Indiana State 65-58 on Wednesday at the Hulman Center, surviving a desperate effort by the Sycamores. WSU is one of the nation’s two unbeaten teams and opened a three-game lead in the Missouri Valley Conference with a sweep of the second-place Sycamores.
The game drew a crowd of 9,245, the arena’s biggest since a 2005 visit by Indiana attracted a sellout of 10,200.
“That’s why winning on the road is so difficult,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said.
It is not as difficult for WSU as it is for most teams. The Shockers survived a shaky night at the foul line. They got outrebounded by six and gave up 11 offensive rebounds, a major issue for Marshall. And they committed one more turnover than the Sycamores.
With all that going against them, the Shockers came out on top.
“They’re just so mature,” Marshall said. “They just don’t get rattled. Rarely do you see much emotion. You don’t ever see them get flustered.”
WSU had reason to get flustered late in the game. It came up empty on five straight possessions to allow Indiana State within two points. In the final 1:03, however, the Shockers righted themselves to hold on.
Chadrack Lufile made four free throws in the final 43 seconds to seal the win. Cleanthony Early provided breathing room with a three-point play with 1:03 remaining to give WSU a 61-56 lead.
WSU (24-0, 11-0 MVC) extended its school-record win streak despite missing 11 of 30 fouls shots. Indiana State (17-6, 8-3) lost for the first time in nine games at home. The Sycamores watched their chance to add a big chip to their NCAA Tournament resume slip away.
“I feel terrible,” Indiana State senior Manny Arop said. “We had our home crowd behind us. Perfect setting. It’s frustrating.”
Early led WSU with 19 points, 15 in the second half. Arop led Indiana State with 16.
WSU built an 11-point lead, 50-39, in the second half. It appeared to have the crowd negated and the Sycamores flummoxed. Then Indiana State started out-hustling WSU and the tide turned. Early scored inside against a variety of defenders to awaken from a quiet first half.
The Sycamores grabbed three offensive rebounds in one trip, finally scoring to cut the lead to 52-44. After a Shocker miss, guard Dawon Cummings took the rebound from center Kadeem Coleby to start a break that ended with Jake Odum’s bank shot, to make the score 52-48. Tekele Cotton missed a three and Cummings made two free throws with 9:04 to play to cut WSU’s lead to 52-50.
Indiana State’s Khristian Smith, who hurt the Sycamores with turnovers early in the half, bailed the Shockers out of a difficult situation. Indiana State played great defense and forced Cotton into an off-balance three at the end of the shot clock. He sailed into Smith and officials whistled him for a foul. Cotton, after barely hitting rim on the first foul shot, made the next two for a 54-50 lead with 8:30 to play.
Early scored on the block over two defenders to make it 56-50. But the Shockers lost center Justin Gant on a break and Odum found him with a pitch-back for a three from the top of the key. Cotton’s layup, on a pretty pass from Baker through traffic, gave WSU a 58-53 lead.
WSU, however, broke down on offense. Darius Carter missed two free throws with 3:44 to play. A shot clock violation gave the ball to Indiana State with 2:47 to play. Cummings blocked a three by Early. Up 58-56, WSU struggled to get a good shot and Carter missed a short jumper and lost the ball off the backboard attempting a follow shot.
Five straight empty trips gave Indiana State a chance, down 58-56 with 1:22 to play.
The Shockers broke away midway through the first half by forcing the Sycamores into long jump shots and swatting away attempts in the lane.
After Arop’s long jumper missed badly, the Shockers quickly turned that mistake into a three by Ron Baker for a 28-19 lead. Indiana State’s Smith made a three and Cotton responded with one of his own, burning the Sycamores for their decision to play well off him, and the Shockers went up 31-22.
Arop took over the final minutes of the half, jump-starting the Sycamores by snatching an offensive rebound and scoring to cut the margin to seven points. He scored again to cut WSU’s lead to 31-26. Odum’s layup, after a Shocker miss, made it 31-28.
WSU briefly halted the run with a dunk by Carter, after his blocked shot, to go up 33-28.
Smith made two free throws and then Arop, eluding Early, made a three. His long two at the buzzer cut WSU’s halftime lead to 36-35. Arop scored 12 of Indiana State’s final 18 points in the half and had 13 at the break.
WSU made 6 of 7 threes in the first half with VanVleet and Cotton both making two. Baker scored eight points in the half.
The Sycamores outrebounded WSU 17-12 and scored seven points on second-chance baskets.