The Shockers pumped up their fans with a 29-point win. Score: WSU 79, MSU 50
Key stats: The Shockers held the Bears to 16-of-51 shooting and out-rebounded them 47-22. WSU made 7 of 11 threes in the first half to build a 42-27 lead.
How the game turned: Cleanthony Early gave WSU a burst of energy with his offensive rebounding in the first half. His tip-dunk put the Shockers up 18-14. He grabbed a missed free throw and scored for a 26-20 lead and Carl Hall joined in with a tip for a 28-20 lead. WSU outscored MSU 21-7 after leading 21-20 with 10:35 remaining in the first half.
Records: MSU 7-18, 5-8 MVC; WSU 20-5, 9-4
A long list of Shockers shrugged off their slumps, perhaps none more important than center Ehimen Orukpe. He grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds, most since he had nine on Jan. 9. He scored four points after going scoreless in four of his past five games and played 18 minutes, most since Jan. 13. Orukpe’s production dropped when Hall returned from his injury in mid-January. While no player grew more in Hall’s seven-game absence, his return diminished Orukpe’s production and minutes, since both often play center. Pairing Orukpe at center with Hall at power forward seemed to spark something in Orukpe. “Carl and Ehimen, that combination they have together is unique,” guard Demetric Williams said. “That’s what they had at the beginning of the year and they kind of lost it. It’s just something they have together. They know each other well and they know they have each other’s back.” Orukpe agreed that playing with Hall is important, even if it’s hard to describe. “When a shot goes up, I know one of us is going to get the rebound,” he said. “I’m just comfortable with that, playing hard and there’s just something about winning with him.” WSU coach Gregg Marshall started his four seniors for a reason. The Shockers are going to win or lose with them, and if they don’t play well nothing else really matters. Williams told the other starters that truth when they huddled before the game. “At the beginning of the game, I told them: ‘This is what we wanted. Us four seniors together. We’ve got to set the example,’” he said. Williams and Armstead made a lot of Saturday’s success possible with their passing. WSU noticeably moved the ball more quickly and with less dribbling. Armstead had five assists and no turnovers. Williams had two and no turnovers. Sophomore Tekele Cotton had four assists and one turnover. Saturday’s win ended the three-game losing streak. The Shockers still face major obstacles the rest of the way. Most of the opponents will offer more resistance than the Bears and their three freshmen starters. The Shockers can feel they are starting this crucial stretch by playing at their top level. “We had a lot of good performances,” Marshall said. “We played quickly, yet under control. We took care of the basketball. We pounded it in against their zone. Cleanthony was really good in his minutes. Fred (VanVleet), I thought, had a burst tonight that was great to see. Ehimen was really good late in the second half with his little dominant stretch. When Demetric plays like this, he’s playing well. He was getting up, guarding. He was helping run our team.” The 29-point margin is WSU’s largest in the 61-game series with the Bears. Ron Baker remains on track to test his left foot by running on Monday. He is scheduled to start shooting jump shots in a week. Baker has been out since Dec. 13 with a stress fracture.
Next up: vs. Drake, 7 p.m. Wednesday (Cox 22)