CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — The only person who slowed Joe Ragland over the weekend was Joe Ragland.
He lost his drivers license, which bugged Wichita State basketball coach Gregg Marshall and made getting on the charter flight unnecessarily messy on Friday.
"Coach was mad," Ragland said. "He said he was going to kick me off the team."
Marshall, of course, wasn't serious. Fortunately, WSU's basketball staff prepares for forgetfulness and travels with copies of identification for the players. Ragland flew with the team to Northern Iowa, started and scored eight points and handed out eight assists in Saturday's 73-55 win over the Panthers at the McLeod Center.
"After we were able to get him on the airplane, it was smooth sailing," Marshall said.
Ragland started his first game since Jan. 26 and it appears he is WSU's point guard. He played 32 minutes against Northern Iowa and for the second game in a row gave WSU's offense life with his scoring and driving. Shooting guard David Kyles, a slumping shooter, moved to the bench and played a season-low six minutes. Toure Murry, the leader at point guard most of the season, returned to shooting guard without a hitch — he turned in a masterful all-around game with 15 points, nine rebounds, two steals and game-changing defense.
"He ran our team — I thought he pushed the break and I thought he made good decisions," Marshall said.
All season, WSU coaches waited for Ragland to consistently get into the lane and use his quickness and leaping to score. He's shown flashes. Against Southern Illinois on Tuesday he did it often, going 4 for 4 and scoring nine points. Saturday, he made all four of his two-point shots.
He finished the first half with a spectacular play, challenging two Northern Iowa defenders on a fast break and scoring over one at the rim to give WSU a 35-25 late in the final minute.
"I saw the lane open up, and I thought I could score over the guy," Ragland said. "I thought I got fouled."
With Ragland efficiently running the offense, the Shockers (21-5, 12-3 Missouri Valley Conference) shot 57.7 percent and blew out the Panthers (18-9, 9-6) in the final 10 minutes. WSU made 24 of 33 shots inside the three-point line. It scored after each of UNI's eight turnovers, turning those mistakes into 16 points.
"You can't commit too many turnovers against a good team like that, because that's free baskets," UNI guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe said.
WSU's defense did its part by disrupting Ahelegbe and UNI's ball screens.
"We were really focused on fighting over those screens," WSU senior Graham Hatch said.
Ahelegbe and guard Anthony James tormented the Shockers during a 77-74 win at Koch Arena in January. The Panthers shot 57.4 percent in that game. Saturday, WSU held them to 31.4 percent. James scored four points, 16 fewer than the first meeting. Ahelegbe scored 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting and recorded more turnovers (three) than assists (two).
Murry kept Ahelegbe in front of him, helped by WSU big men who kept him from turning the corner around screens and driving into the lane. When he did get into the lane, the Shockers helped. J.T. Durley blocked a shot by Ahelegbe late in the first half, leading to a layup for Murry.
"The guards were fighting a little bit harder, and being tougher fighting over screens," Murry said. "I thought our big men really stepped up on screens and forced him outside and didn't give him a head of steam towards the basket."
The Shockers finished off the Panthers with a 23-1 run in the final 10 minutes. Down 50-47 with 10:20 to play, UNI made one free throw before its next basket, a meaningless three by Johnny Moran with 1:54 to play.
WSU, up 73-51, had things well in hand for its seventh straight MVC road win — all by 10 or more points. The win kept the Shockers tied for first place in the MVC with Missouri State. WSU needed that feel-good effort after Tuesday's disappointing home loss to Southern Illinois.
Marshall wasn't surprised at how his team bounced back.
"They're not quitters," he said. "They're not losers. They've got a lot of character, and I've said that all along. It was a couple tough days of practice, and they responded."