Wichita State did win Saturday's game with an impressive first half. It just didn't go as easily as it appeared.
WSU held off Utah State 83-76 at Koch Arena after building a 21-point lead at halftime with a performances coaches and players dream about. Guard David Kyles scored 18 points, WSU made nine three-pointers and its defense rattled the Aggies.
It looked too good to last, especially against a proud program such as Utah State.
WSU (7-2) won its fifth straight game despite sagging in the second half. Utah State (4-5) departed with 56 second-half points as a consolation prize.
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"Just glad the game ended," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. "I don't know why you would relax in a 40-minute game. As young people do sometimes, they let their guard down and relaxed."
Marshall went into the locker room at halftime and erased the score on the wipe board.
"That usually sets a tone — OK don't even worry about being up to that degree," Marshall said. "That didn't work this time. They came out and scored every possession."
He couldn't erase the way the Shockers dominated the first 20 minutes on their way to a 41-20 lead. They out-rebounded the Aggies 21-11, grabbing 10 offensive rebounds to two for Utah State. WSU made 9 of 17 three pointers and committed five turnovers. Utah State committed nine turnovers and took 14 fewer shots than the Shockers.
"We had a stretch where we just didn't play," Utah State guard Brockeith Pane said. "We just dug ourselves in a big hole those six or seven minutes when we got down and couldn't score."
Kyles made the first half a personal highlight film with his outside shooting. He made 6 of 10 threes, grabbed four rebounds and handed out two assists. Two years ago at Utah State, he made 3 of 3 three-pointers. Saturday, he picked up on that page.
"When I see zone I just get a little more confident in my shots," he said.
He made the first 29 seconds into the game. He missed 34 seconds later and made another after an offensive rebound to give WSU a 6-0 lead.
After two misses, he erased Utah State's only lead of the game to put the Shockers ahead 15-13. He bunched three more late in the half to help the Shockers widen the gap. WSU led 21-18 when he struck again. His fifth three made it 32-20 and he ended his scoring with a long three over a defender for a 38-20 lead.
That was the kind of three a player takes when he is hot, hot, hot. It swished, and Kyles held his cocked hand as he turned to play defense.
"With the way I was shooting, I didn't have a conscience at the time," he said. "I'm glad it went in."
Demetric Williams ended the half with a three, sending the Shockers into the locker room to an ovation.
They returned to find a much different game.
"You want to start off good, but your intensity level and your fire won't be as high as the team's that's down (21) points," Ragland said. "They got their confidence flowing. When we decided to pick up the defensive intensity they were already aggressive and confident."
The Aggies abandoned their zone defense in the second half, allowing them to keep Kyles from heating up again. He took three shots in the second half. WSU aided the rally by giving the Aggies driving lanes and easy baskets. Several times, Utah State scored layups after beating the Shockers down court.
"They were more aggressive toward the rim," Kyles said.
Utah State cut the lead to 53-42 with 12:21 to play. WSU rebuilt it to 16 before it began to decline. Danny Berger's three got the Aggies within double-digits for the first time since the first half with 8:44 to play at 61-52.
The Aggies kept pushing, driving hard and drawing fouls. Pane scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half. Preston Medlin scored 11 points in the half, as did Kyisean Reed.
Reed's jumper cut WSU's lead to 68-64 with 4:40 to play.
Then the Shockers responded with defense and free throws. After an Aggie airball, Toure Murry scored on a spinner in the lane. Murry blocked Medlin's shot from behind, leading to a fast break that got Ragland open for a three and a 73-64 lead. Williams stripped Morgan Grim on the next possession and the Shockers had stalled Utah State's momentum.
Marshall put the ball in Murry's hands in the final minutes. He made five of six free throws and handled Utah State's pressure. WSU made 10 of 12 free throws in the final 2:23.
Marshall will remember the game as a successful cap to a tough week. WSU defeated then-No. 18 UNLV, won its first road game at Tulsa and handled Utah State in six days.
"We knew this was going to be a murderous week," Marshall said. "This week, against UNLV, at Tulsa and Utah State — the Shockers are 3-0."