The score: Tennessee 69, Wichita State 60
Key statistics: The Volunteers outscored WSU 29-12 at the foul line. They held WSU to two fast-break points and 21-of-55 shooting.
How the game turned: The Shockers scored one point in the final 3:29, allowing Tennessee to break a 59-all tie with a 10-1 run to end the game.
Records: WSU 9-1, Tennessee 5-3
To use the phrase volleyball coach Chris Lamb popularized, the Shockers played with house money on Thursday. The loss shouldn’t hurt them come March. They had done enough previously to earn a bit of a cushion. Still, when you’re tied with under four to play, you would like to at least finish strong and the Shockers faded. When a team is as deep as WSU, it can usually find three or four players who are clicking. Not Thursday. Carl Hall played great. Everybody else performed average or worse, a testament to Tennessee’s defense. The starting backcourt of Malcolm Armstead, Demetric Williams and Ron Baker combined to shoot 6 of 22 with six assists and seven turnovers. Cleanthony Early’s foul trouble kept him from helping – two points in 17 minutes. “We didn’t run good enough motion offense,” Williams said. “Shots that I usually knock down just came up short. We just didn’t play well.” The Shockers did play without starter Evan Wessel, whose outside shooting might have helped. Center Ehimen Orukpe played seven minutes. His ankle appeared to make it hard for him to rebound. Several times, he was unable to move quickly enough to grab balls he normally makes a play on. Another week off should help him. After a 9-0 start, the Shockers were due for a clinker. Playing on the road against a motivated team didn’t help. “We had too many guys not play as well as they needed to play,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “We weren’t very smart, we fouled too many times. We didn’t make our free throws, they did. We didn’t play well enough to win here.” Going back to 2011, when Cuonzo Martin coached Missouri State, WSU has scored 59, 64 and 60 points in the past three meetings with his teams. Its best shooting performance came in 2011, when it made 42 percent from the field in a 69-64 loss in Springfield. ”I said going in this is probably the best defensive team we have played all year,” Marshall said. “They make it tough. We had some good looks. You have to knock them in.” The Volunteers desperately wanted to snap a two-game skid. They were tired of answering questions about their scoring (after failing to break 40 points in losses to Georgetown and Virginia). "I told the guys this was a must-win before the game,” Volunteers guard Trae Golden said. “We really didn't put pressure on ourselves, but we can't keep playing all these teams until the last minute and then just have it dwindle away from us.” WSU won’t face many guards with Golden’s combination of size and power. He got to the lane far too easily and shot 13 of 16 from the line as a reward. Hall blocked three shots, but Orukpe’s absence made the lane more inviting than usual. ”I thought Trae Golden was huge tonight,” Martin said. “He really attacked the rim, made plays and forced the referee to make calls. I thought it was his best game all season, just being assertive and being in tune on both ends of the floor.” Martin showed unusual grit in scheduling this series. Rest assured, he is admired by the WSU side for his willingness to play. The teams meet in Intrust Bank Arena next season. ”You have to give your hat off to Wichita State, a very talented team, a very physical team,” Martin said. “On our schedule, I wondered why we were doing this because I know what they bring to the table, what caliber a team they are. I know at the end it will help us from an RPI standpoint but also they’re a really talented opponent.”
Next up: vs. Charleston Southern, 7 p.m. Thursday