February 11, 2012

Bob Lutz: No doubt who controls the Valley now

A record crowd of 18,735 showed up at the CenturyLink Center on Saturday, sure they were going to see Creighton break from the offensive shackles of the past two games and establish, once again, that it is cream of the Missouri Valley basketball crop.

A record crowd of 18,735 showed up at the CenturyLink Center on Saturday, sure they were going to see Creighton break from the offensive shackles of the past two games and establish, once again, that it is cream of the Missouri Valley basketball crop.

Their enthusiasm lasted approximately seven minutes. Instead, the big crowd was muted by one of the most impressive Wichita State performances ever, which is a long time.

The Shockers, so often willing to cower in Creighton’s presence in past seasons, saw the big crowd and stuck a sock in its collective mouth. Scoring at will, rebounding at will and draining the will out of Creighton, WSU won 89-68. It was a dominant performance that should get the national media blogging and tweeting about the Shockers.

I checked Twitter after the game, and Wichita State wasn’t trending. But give it time.

As consolation, a Creighton fan — one of the few left in the building as the game spiraled into a rout — held up a sign directed at Shocker fans watching the game on ESPN2. It said: “Remember, you live in Wichita.”

And that was the most creative thing anyone associated with Creighton was able to come up with Saturday. Otherwise, it was a Shocker party on the Bluejays’ floor, a feel-good win that put Wichita State up by two games in the conference race with three to play.

Another fan, as the game was winding down, heckled WSU coach Gregg Marshall, telling him, “We’ll see you in St. Louis.’’

Not sure the fan wanted to go there, really, considering the opposite ways these teams are headed as the regular season winds down.

Creighton has lost three in a row and suddenly can’t throw the ball in the ocean. WSU, since losing at Drake two weeks ago, has reeled off four straight wins and could finally show up in the national rankings Monday.

If the Shockers don’t, it might be time for an investigation. Wichita State (22-4, 13-2 MVC) is playing like a team that has loftier goals than just hanging a Valley championship banner in Koch Arena’s rafters.

Marshall could barely contain his glee after the thumping of Creighton. But he did manage to contain it. When asked if the Shockers had kicked in the door in pursuit of the Valley championship, he politely declined to address the question.

“I know that it was a very nice win against a very good team by a great group of guys,’’ Marshall said. “They work extremely hard and they deserved to win. It wasn’t one of those close-but-no-cigar wins. It wasn’t a — what is it called? — ‘horseshoes and hand grenades’ thing. It was a no-doubter.’’

That it was.

And it left Creighton, which has made 13 of 58 three-point attempts in its past three games, shaken.

In an attempt to fire up his team late in the first half, Bluejays coach Greg McDermott got in the face of his best player — and oldest son — Doug. And I mean got in his face.

The elder McDermott explained that he didn’t think his kid was playing hard enough, and that by chewing him out he hoped to ignite something in his team.

Didn’t work. Nothing worked for Creighton, which was equally bad at both ends of the floor.

But to discredit the Bluejays doesn’t tell the story of the game. Wichita State was great and would have made a lot of teams — a lot of good teams — look pedestrian.

The possibilities for the Shockers seem endless. But when a team puts on the kind of show Wichita State did here, fantasies start to appear.

WSU shot 59.6 percent, made 8 of 14 three-pointers, was perfect (15 of 15) from the free-throw line and outrebounded Creighton 33-22. Somebody did spill some water on the floor near the door of the Shocker dressing room after the game, but that was the only thing that went bad.

It was near-perfection in a city that has had the best of the Shockers for a long time. Only last year was Wichita State able to break through here after 17 consecutive losses.

The players who had the most to do with Saturday’s drubbing were seniors Ben Smith and Joe Ragland, who combined for 46 points on 17-of-24 shooting. Marshall plucked them out of junior colleges before the 2010-11 season and neither, as they were eager to point out, has lost a game to Creighton in Omaha.

For added fun, Smith drew the bulk of the defensive assignment on McDermott, the third-leading scorer in the country at 23.3 points.

Not only that, but the 6-foot-5 Smith gave up a couple of inches and about 15 pounds to McDermott.

Insisting he didn’t lose sleep the night before, Smith bellied up to McDermott and forced him to work harder than he’s used to working for his points. McDermott made 5 of 14 shots for 13 points. In two games against the Shockers, McDermott is 9 for 23 and has averaged 12.5 points.

Ragland, who has had some of the best games you’ll see from a Shocker, added another for the ages. His 24 points, six assists and no turnovers pushed him toward what should be strong consideration for All-Missouri Valley Conference honors.

As good as Smith and Ragland were, though, it was a team effort. And in a game the Shockers wanted as badly as they have wanted any game in a long time.

WSU and Creighton are 1-1. There easily could be a rubber match at the Valley tournament next month in St. Louis. But Wichita State won’t cower. Those days are gone.

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