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February 20, 2013

Day After: Wichita State at Indiana State

Score: WSU 66, Indiana State 62

Key stats: The Shockers made 18 of 24 free throws and committed nine turnovers. The home team made 15 of 23 and committed 16.

How the game turned: Carl Hall didn’t get the ball often – six shots – as the Shockers again struggled to feed the post against Indiana State. When he did get the ball in good position late in the game, he took advantage for a three-point play over and through R.J. Mahurin. The 54-49 lead represented WSU’s largest to that point. Malcolm Armstead followed that by making a three, helped by Hall’s screen, for a 57-51 lead. After a turnover, Nick Wiggins’ layup gave WSU a 59-51 lead with 2:11 to play.

Records: WSU 23-5, 12-4 MVC; ISU 16-11, 9-7

Time to seriously consider Armstead as an All-MVC candidate. The first team will be tough to make with Indiana State’s Jake Odum, Creighton’s Doug McDermott, Illinois State’s Jackie Carmichael and Evansville’s Colt Ryan likely locks. The fifth spot appears ticketed for WSU’s Cleanthony Early or Carl Hall. Armstead should be at the top of the list for the second team and, should the Shockers win out, he might make a run at first-teamer. Armstead had his frustrating moments – technical fouls, bad shots and bad turnovers. Some fans were ready for freshman Fred VanVleet to take over at point guard. Seemed silly then and seems especially silly now, after Armstead’s performances at Illinois State and Indiana State. Armstead scored 18 points in both, making 14 of 29 shots and 7 of 14 threes with 9 assists (seven turnovers) and three steals. He rarely came out of the game, which tells you all you need to know about how much the coaches value him. While the turnover numbers are not ideal, WSU desperately needed offense in both those games and Armstead provided much of it with his drives and outside shooting. He has recovered from a five-game shooting slump to improve to 38.3 percent from three-point range, 42.5 percent in MVC games. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.6 in MVC games ranks eighth, close behind players such as Ryan (1.9), Creighton’s Grant Gibbs (1.8) and Odum (1.8). Sure, he gets going too fast at times (he survived one bad lapse in judgement late in Tuesday’s game), but the package of fearlessness and experience is one WSU can’t live without. Should WSU win the MVC title, Armstead will be a major reason. Quite a road swing for the Shockers, who needed to lose two road games to figure out how to win. On Sunday and Tuesday, they got some breaks (some bigger than others), executed almost flawlessly in the final minutes and took advantage of the opponent’s mistakes. "Wichita was a little tired and ripe to get beat,” Sycamores coach Greg Lansing said. “But the championship-caliber team that they are overcomes that stuff. I told the guys we played hard enough to win, we just didn't play well enough to win.”  In losses at Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois, WSU kept it close, but couldn’t make the plays at the end. That changed on this road trip, and against two upper-division teams. The Shockers won’t go 8-1 on the road as their two predecessors did and that won’t matter if they take care of business at home next week against Evansville. “No doubt in my mind we were going to win both these games,” WSU senior Demetric Williams said. “We’ve still got one big road game at Creighton, but at the same time I would say this team knows how to keep fighting. From the Illinois State coming back down 10 with three minutes left, it shows the fight in everybody in that locker room.” Williams played 33 minutes with a painful bruise on his hip, took several hard falls and chased Odum around much of the night. He played most of the game wrapped up tightly around his mid-section. Late in the game, he took it off and the trainer taped him up again during a timeout. “It just takes awhile to loosen up,” he said. “The trainers do a great job of helping me through it, and it’s just something I’ve got to fight through.” WSU can wrap up a share of the MVC title on Feb. 27 against Evansville at home. Evansville is 2-10 on the road and 1-7 in MVC games, yet anybody who follows the Shockers know how hard it is to play against the Aces. Fans have some experience at those clinching games in 2006 and 2012 and know it’s not easy for players when the crowd comes expecting a celebration. All the pressure flips to the Shockers, especially with a game at Creighton looming on March 2. The Shockers don’t want to go to Omaha needing to win. In both games of the trip, WSU struggled on offense for long stretches. It never gave into panic and kept working on offense and defense, a lesson learned from the three-game losing streak. While it took awhile, the Shockers found things that worked. “That’s why you practice,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “You have other options and you don’t have just one thing to go to. We did just about everything we have tonight.” Close game, tough loss for the home team. Yet the atmosphere after pegged at 180 degrees differently than Sunday’s loss at Illinois State. Indiana State coach Greg Lansing talked with WSU coaches and MVC commissioner Doug Elgin after the game. Marshall contrasted the mood with the one after the Illinois State game. He won’t discuss the details of post-game shouting between coaching staffs on the record, but he’s made it clear he considers the Redbirds coaches the aggressors. “I want to make sure when I say ‘hostile environment’ here, it’s a nice hostile environment, it’s a nice way to have a hostile environment,” he said. WSU made 8 of 21 threes (38.1 percent), its fifth game in a row at 37 percent or better.

 Next up: vs. Detroit, 3 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2)

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