Creighton's defense held WSU's shooters to their worst performance of the season.Score: Creighton 68, WSU 61
Key statistics: The Shockers shot a season-low 33.3 percent from the field and a season-low 19.2 percent from three-point range. In WSU’s three losses it is 16 of 66 from three-point range.
Records: CU 11-2, 1-1 MVC; WSU 10-3, 1-1
Just when things appear to be going good for Wichita State, Creighton always seems to be in the way. The Bluejays ended WSU’s eight-game winning streak on Saturday and kept the Shockers from establishing themselves as the MVC favorite. The disappointing thing is that so many Shockers didn’t play acceptably on offense to help junior Carl Hall. Everybody, except Hall, produced below-average offensive numbers. It’s flukey that so many players would struggle on the same night and it’s also a credit to Creighton’s hard work on defense. The Shockers are normally a good three-point shooting team. On Saturday, they weren’t, ending a stretch in which they shot 40 percent or better from behind the arc five times in six games.
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How much of Saturday’s poor shooting can we credit to defense and how much to the inevitable statistical ups and downs? Let’s look at WSU’s 14 three-point attempts in the second half and see if there is a conclusion to be reached:
Joe Ragland makes a three off an in-bound play with 17:52 to play, giving WSU a 42-35 lead. Good shot. Ragland used a screen and was well into his motion before a Bluejay defender came close. WSU does as good a job as any team scoring in those situations.Kyles misses an open three from the wing with 16:36 to play. Good shot, one Kyles can take any time.Ragland misses with 15:17 to play. He was guarded, although not blanketed. As well as Ragland has shot recently, that’s not a bad shot. Perhaps it wasn’t the absolute best shot. In watching the replay, I noticed that both of the past two threes came after Hall got the ball and was doubled in the post. However, he didn’t pass directly to the shooter. He passed to another Shocker, who then found the shooter. It’s good that Hall isn’t turning the ball over against the double team. Perhaps as he gets more experienced he will be able to look to the opposite side of the floor and give the shooter more time before the defense reacts.Garrett Stutz misses a wide-open three from the top of the key with 14:01 to play. He was wide open for a reason. His shots look good. He shoots with confidence and good form. He looks like a guy a coach wants to shoot the three. But, the shots don’t go in and every MVC team hopes he keeps shooting there instead of in the lane, where he makes more than half his shots and draws fouls. WSU led 46-41 at the time and I remember thinking that miss really killed a building buzz in Koch Arena. Hall, on a mission to grab every rebound, picked up his third foul chasing this one.Ben Smith misses off the front of the rim with 12:19 to play. He was open, but on the move coming off a screen and chased by Ethan Wragge. Smith is a fine shooter, but he’s more effective getting set than shooting on the move. Not a bad shot. With 24 seconds left on the shot clock, probably not the best one WSU could get.Ragland misses too hard with 12:14 to play after Stutz tips the rebound out on Smith’s miss. Ragland was open.Stutz misses long from the top of the key with 11:28 to play and WSU up 47-46. He was open. At times like this, remember the three he made to beat LSU and tell yourself it all evens out. Stutz is 2 for 10 from three this season and 21 of 76 for his career. Perhaps the emotional impact of his threes is underestimated. If he makes one, it’s a huge lift because he’s a 7-footer and it’s unexpected. When he misses, it seems to be a big waste of a possession because he is much better in the lane and he is surrounded by better three-point shooters. We know Gregg Marshall’s thoughts on this issue. He doesn’t want to rob his shooters of confidence, so he doesn’t want to get in their heads about taking bad shots. Most of the time, it works. It will be up to Stutz to decide if he will take the next three, and he will probably make the right decision.Kyles misses long over a defender on a quick-hitter early in the shot clock with 9:19 to play. When Kyles is going good, he makes those kinds of shots. No problem with him taking that one. Dave Armstrong didn’t agree.Kyles misses again with 7:05 to play. He had a defender running at him after Demetric Williams drew him in with penetration. Here we begin to see that while Creighton isn’t in the face of every shooter, it is contesting every shot to some degree. Not a bad shot by Kyles.Kyles is forced to take a desperation three with the shot clock at two with 5:46 to play. Good defense.Murry misses with 2:56 to play. Bad shot, taken over a defender with 30 on the shot clock and WSU trailing 62-56. There was no reason for WSU to rush at that point. The offense didn’t get a chance to create anything and WSU had no rebounders in position.Kyles misses after faking a pass and moving toward the baseline before shooting with 56 seconds remaining. A difficult shot because he wasn’t squared up, even though he cleared the defender. Down 63-59, WSU didn’t need to shoot so quickly. It didn’t even need a three.Smith misses with 31 seconds to play after Murry stole pass with WSU down 65-61. Doug McDermott contested the shot. Not a horrible shot because he was set. Not an open shot. Last night, I thought he really rushed it. Looking at it again, I think Smith took what he thought was a reasonable shot given that Creighton didn’t allow many open looks. If he passes it up, there’s no guarantee WSU gets anything better and that’s a credit to Creighton’s defense.Ragland misses a long three with 11 seconds to play and the outcome decided.
My conclusion is Creighton did a fine job contesting shots, in part because Gregory Echenique locked down the lane. The only ones WSU got that looked wide open were Ragland off the in-bound play and off a rebound, one by Kyles and two by Stutz. The Shockers took four shots I consider to be bad, either because they were guarded or too early in the shot clock. If consider Stutz shooting a three a bad decision, then it’s six bad shots. They get a pass on two for desperation situations. That leaves three shots that were contested, but not horrible decisions. WSU coach Gregg Marshall didn’t like his team’s execution in the second half for good reason. When you’re playing a good team, you can’t afford to give away possessions.
Where does this put WSU? Not in bad shape. Going 8-1 at home is acceptable. Can WSU go 6-3 on the road to get to 14-4? Sure. Winning Saturday makes everything easier. Losing makes it more difficult, but with 16 games remaining things are far from settled. WSU won’t shoot 19 percent from three-point range often this season.Creighton’s Grant Gibbs showed his worth in the second half. He was involved in about every big play when Creighton made its rally early in the second half. He is a good passer who really helps run that team.The good news for WSU is that it kept the MVC’s top offense under control. Hall and Smith did a fine job battling Doug McDermott and making him work for points. Antoine Young killed the Shockers with his penetration. Josh Jones hit some big shots in the second half. In general, if you can hold McDermott to 12 points you like your defensive effort.Fabulous effort by Hall, who finished with 17 points and a season-high 13 rebounds. I can’t recall too many better individual efforts in my years covering WSU. Hall played 29 minutes and probably plays more if he doesn’t get in foul trouble. The issue isn’t Hall’s minutes. The issue is that nobody stepped up to carry the Shockers when he sat down.While WSU is good coming out of timeouts, Creighton trumped it on Saturday. The Shockers had some momentum, trailing 60-55, when the Jays called timeout. They got McDermott the ball in the lane on the in-bound play to use his height advantage over Smith to bank in a shot.
Next up: at Evansville, 7 p.m., Wednesday (Kansas 22)