Wichita State talked a lot about being an NCAA Tournament basketball team. Until Sunday, the Shockers hadn't played like one.
Right on cue, the Shockers rode a big shooting game and played 40 minutes of smart, energetic basketball to blow past No. 18 UNLV 89-70 at Koch Arena.
"Everybody clicked in the biggest night of the year so far," WSU guard Joe Ragland said. "They're a marquee team. We needed a win on our resume."
The Shockers (5-2) knocked UNLV (8-1) from the unbeaten ranks with a well-rounded effort. Ragland scored a career-high 31 points and made 8 of 9 three-pointers. WSU took the Runnin' out of the Rebels by holding them 13 points below their scoring average and 20 points off their total in a win over then-No. 1 North Carolina on Nov. 26.
"We need to understand that part of being 8-0 and being ranked is you're going to get everyone's best shot," UNLV coach Dave Rice said. "And we certainly got that today. They got anything and everything they wanted. They executed really, really well."
Proof of that comes from the fact WSU wanted to slow its offense a bit against UNLV's press. It took a patient approach to getting the ball up court _ and still scored a season-high 89 points. WSU made 12 of 23 three-pointers and shot 59.3 percent from the floor. Its 20 assists and six turnovers provided more evidence of how smoothly the Shockers played.
"We can't race horse like we did last year — yet," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. "There were some timely baskets from our sets that the guys executed beautifully. Bam, bam a couple of passes, a screen here or there and all of a sudden we've got the ball, point blank, at the basket, for a wide-open shot."
Ragland took care of the outside shooting. Forward Carl Hall scored 17 points, making 7 of 10 shots on a series of quick, powerful moves in the lane. Center Garrett Stutz scored 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting. Toure Murry set a career high with eight assists in addition to his 11 points.
"It was great to play that well in that big a game," Marshall said. "It was reminiscent of the end of last year, the way we were sharing the ball. Just a dynamite display of ball-handling and unselfish individuals on our team."
The Shockers broke their habit of muddling through the first half. Ragland and Hall worked over the Rebels from outside and inside to control the first half. Hall scored back-to-back baskets in the lane for a 27-18 lead. He scored again to make it 32-21. Ragland followed with two three-pointers to put WSU up 38-25. Another Ragland three made it 43-28 with 3:12 remaining.
"My teammates were ready and did a good job finding me," Ragland said. "I had a couple open shots early that dropped me for. Once I made those couple shots, I figured I could shoot every time if was open."
The Rebels didn't get closer than 14 points the rest of the game.
"They played with more energy, came out harder," UNLV forward Mike Moser said. "It was a real big game for them, and they took advantage of it."
WSU's defense took the Rebels out of their three-point game. The Shockers didn't want point guard Oscar Bellfield to dribble into the lane and pass out to open shooters. They limited Bellfield's driving and didn't give up many open shots.
"Once you get in the middle of the court, you can do anything," WSU guard Toure Murry said. "Our game plan was to just to keep he guards out of the middle and play off that. We fed off the crowd, too. The crowd was amazing."
Chace Stanback led UNLV with 16 points. Moser added 12.