WSU's Carll Hall carries David Kyles, celebrating Tuesday's win over Illinois State.The score: Wichita State 65, Illinois State 62
Key statistics: WSU committed eight turnovers and held ISU to 39.6-percent shooting. The Shockers made 17 of 22 free throws, including 6 of 7 in the final 3:30.
Records: ISU 11-5, 3-2 MVC; WSU 13-3, 4-1
WSU led 51-38 when Ben Smith made a three with 10:51 remaining. After a Redbird turnover, the Shockers went right back to Smith for a quick-hitter with 10:22 to play. That was a killer-instinct play, going to a good shooter for an open shot that may have buried Illinois State, and the kind of move we’ve come to expect from WSU coach Gregg Marshall. Smith missed the shot, however, and WSU was never the same. The Shockers missed their next four shots – all from three – and committed a turnover. Demetric Willliams rescued the Shockers with a high, arching shot from the baseline for a 53-43 lead. Then Williams missed a three and David Kyles bricked a jumper. The names that are missing from that list are Carl Hall and Garrett Stutz. They didn’t get shots. The Shockers went cold from three and the Redbirds rallied. Marshall, after the game, said he didn’t remember a lot of bad shots. That sounds right. WSU didn’t take horrible shots. Illinois State did a better job of guarding Stutz in the second half and Hall sat on the bench with foul trouble. Could WSU have gotten better shots in that span? Marshall will answer that question in film sessions. He had good shooters shooting, in general, good shots and he has told us many times he wants them to take those shots.So the “losing leads” issue isn’t going to go away. It happened against Utah State. It happened against Creighton and Evansville and the Redbirds. In general, I don’t get too wrapped up in it. It happens everywhere – good times don’t last for the leading team. The losing team gets embarrassed and makes a bunch of no-pressure threes. If you play 30 good – some very good – minutes as WSU did on Tuesday, a team is in good shape. However, a team full of seniors can’t look at losing almost all of a 19-point lead as a good thing. The Shockers needed to cut that rally off when it got to eight points or so, not let it continue. It’s strange how important Carl Hall has become to this team. The Shockers made their reputation for being a balanced, deep team with no stars. The starting lineup doesn’t matter. Stats don’t matter. Hall, however, seems to matter. When he goes out, WSU misses his energy.Missouri State led SIU by 21 points in the first half on Tuesday before winning 77-65 in Springfield. SIU cut the lead to 44-42 in the second half. “They got up 21 and then we decided to play,” SIU coach Chris Lowery told the Springfield News-Leader.WSU’s offense slowed, in large part, because it had to attack Illinois State’s half-court defense for long stretches. “We’re not getting transition buckets,” WSU guard Joe Ragland said. “We weren’t getting in transition because we weren’t getting stops. That’s where it starts.” Those easy baskets fueled WSU’s superb first half in which it played like an experienced team should at home. The Shockers jumped on the Redbirds from the start and got the crowd into the game. They defended. They rebounded. They had a chance to blow out the Redbirds, and almost did. “They were bringing it at us too fast and were getting too many easy baskets,” ISU coach Tim Jankovich said. “We never even had a chance to guard them in the first half and work on anything we had game-planned because they were rebounding and running.”The offense can’t take all the blame for WSU losing 18 points off a 19-point lead. WSU couldn’t guard ISU freshman Nic Moore, who put on a show in the second half. The Redbirds trailed 51-38 when he scored five straight points. That gave the Redbirds life. Moore scored 10 of ISU’s 14 points during a later stretch. He made jumpers. He drove past the Shockers for a layup. He made all six of his free throws. So here was a freshman beating down a team full of seniors on their home court. ISU coach Tim Jankovich couldn’t play Moore in the first half and early in the second, in large part because Ragland abused him on the drive. But Moore didn’t get down on himself and showed impressive resolve for a freshman playing a road game.Jon Ekey made one of the more athletic plays I’ve seen this season when he slammed home a dunk off an off-target lob pass. Ekey has some long arms and hops. The Redbirds, without a senior, will be a force this season. Next season, they should be one of the MVC favorites. The Shockers did a good job holding forward Jackie Carmichael to nine points on eight shots. He is one of the few players who can rebound with Hall. Moore looks like a fabulous player. Bryant Allen did a nice job on Ragland in the second half to keep him out of the lane. The Redbirds started to rally when Allen came in the game and ISU went with a small lineup that put forward John Wilkens on the bench. Allen is a walk-on who played football at Illinois State.Stutz didn’t shoot great (4-12) but he did have his fifth double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds. He also blocked four shots and made 4 of 6 free throws. In his past three games, Stutz is 23 of 37 from the floor, so he is getting plenty of shots and that is a good sign for the offense. Stutz took 10 or more shots three times in WSU’s first 13 games. He has 10 or more in the past three.Ragland’s shooting numbers are crazy-good for a point guard. He is shooting 57.3 percent from the floor after going 6 for 8 on Tuesday. He is 25 of 56 (44.6 percent) from three-point range. WSU’s season leaders in field-goal percentage are names such as Steve Grayer (61.6), Adam Grundvig (61.1, and there’s a name you didn’t expect to read today), Neil Strom, Xavier McDaniel and Antoine Carr. No point guards. Dwayne Praylow (57.5) and Karl Papke (57.7) are the only players in the top 14 who played on the perimeter.If there is one Shocker you want on the lane late in the game, it’s Toure Murry. He made 6 of 7 last night. “I know the team needs big-time free throws,” he said. “When I get in those situations, I know that we need them.”WSU should handle Bradley easily on Friday, although it’s worth noting the Braves played Creighton reasonably tough before losing 92-83. Then a two-game trip to Indiana State and Northern Iowa looms large. The Shockers can put themselves in a great position by winning two. Even a split is probably acceptable.
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Next up: vs. Bradley, 7:05 p.m., Friday (Cox 22)