LOGAN, Utah — The last thing a team grinding away needs is a hectic travel schedule.
Of course, that's exactly what life hands Wichita State. The Shockers arrived home around 5 a.m., Sunday morning via charter plane after a late-night/early-morning 68-58 loss at Utah State in a BracketBusters game on ESPN2.
They play at Bradley on Wednesday, trying to stay in second place in the Missouri Valley Conference.
"This is a tough draw," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. "This is not anything anyone would wish to have happen, to come to Logan, Utah, and play a team like this."
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The Shockers practice the next two days for Bradley. WSU (22-7, 11-5 MVC) can finish no lower than third in the Valley. It leads third-place Illinois State by one game with two to play. The stakes make the possibility of fatigue brought on by the Bracketbusters schedule all the more annoying.
"We condition hard in the off-season, so legs really shouldn't be a problem," sophomore David Kyles said. "We're deeper than most teams, so if one person is down with their legs, somebody should be able to come in and give them a boost."
A boost is exactly what WSU needs as it tries to survive a puzzling finish to the regular season.
"We've got to focus on the next game and not get down on ourselves," senior Clevin Hannah said. "We know we can play better than we performed (against Utah State)."
The results can be spun in any number of ways. One thing is for sure — the Shockers aren't the only MVC team searching for a hot streak.
Since Jan. 27, when the second half of the MVC season started, WSU's 5-3 record trails only first-place Northern Iowa (7-1) and Illinois State (6-2). WSU is 5-2 in MVC games in the second half, behind Northern Iowa (6-1) and equal with the Redbirds. The Shockers lost style points, especially for a loss at last-place Evansville. But they remain in second place throughout their ups and downs.
The Utah State game added another puzzling aspect to WSU's recent performances. The Shockers are inconsistent even as their reserves are producing more consistently than they did early in the MVC schedule. Against Utah State, Kyles came off the bench to score 11 points, his first double-figures game since Dec. 9. Center Garrett Stutz scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds.
Forward Gabe Blair, back after missing a game with a bruised left thigh, added six points in 13 minutes. Bench players scored 18 of WSU's 38 second-half points and 26 total.
The starters, meanwhile, didn't come close to producing their normal scoring. Guard Toure Murry missed 7 of 8 shots and scored two points. Hannah didn't score in the first half and finished with six points, missing 7 of 9 shots. Center J.T. Durley finished with 12 points and eight rebounds, but took only two shots in the second half.
"We've got some guys that aren't playing great," Marshall said. "We'll have to continue to evaluate it. Maybe it's time to make a change or two."
A scoreless stretch of almost eight minutes in the first half killed the Shockers. They trailed 16-13 with 11:24 to play and didn't score again until they trailed 26-16 with 2:59 to play. WSU played the Aggies (22-6) even — 38-all — in the second half when it needed more.
"We attacked it better in the second half," Marshall said. "We were very tentative, stagnant (in the first half). Nothing's going to work when our guards were just horrendous shooting the basketball. Finally we got some guys in there, David Kyles and Gabe Blair, who were a little more offensive-minded."
With Murry and Hannah missing shots, Utah State's zone allowed it to extend the lead. The Shockers, too late, shot 50 percent in the second half. They cut the lead to seven points with 3:50 to play in the game and eight points with 2:58 remaining. Every time, the Aggies scored on the next possession.
The Shockers lost to a team building a respectable NCAA Tournament at-large resume, one that is 64-2 in Logan since 2005-06. Did WSU get anything out of its trip to the Wasatch Mountains? Perhaps, if playing a good team in a tough atmosphere is helpful.
"We can learn from every game, win or lose," Durley said. "They're a good team. They have a great offense and they execute very well."