CARBONDALE, Ill. —Wichita State center Garrett Stutz took care of the early minutes of the second half. Guard Joe Ragland closed out the game.
It was rarely that simple at SIU Arena for the Shockers, until recently. Saturday's 83-73 win over the Salukis gave WSU its third straight win in the building and its highest point total in 39 visits.
"We try to take care of business on the road and be aggressive," Ragland said. "A lot of teams are great at home in this conference. We just try to maintain consistency on the road."
The Shockers (12-3, 3-1 Missouri Valley Conference) won't use Saturday's game as an example of consistency. They can, however, look at several good stretches as the reason for winning. SIU (5-10, 2-2) frazzled the Shockers with their defense at times in the second half but couldn't play well enough for long enough. WSU took a step toward emerging from a six-way tie for first by becoming the only team with three conference road wins.
The Shockers, in everyone's estimation, won the game with a dazzling burst to start the second half. WSU led 40-33 at halftime. It took the Shockers less than seven minutes to go up 63-44.
"Monumentally important, because we had not done it the last two conference games," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. "We challenged our team coming out of the locker room to build on the seven-point game and not make it for naught."
The Shockers took that challenge. Against Creighton, they led by eight at half and the Bluejays tied it in less than seven minutes. Against Evansville, a seven-point halftime lead slipped to two in under five.
"We just wanted to come out with much more intensity than the first half," WSU guard Toure Murry said.
Stutz, coming off a career-high 29 points at Evansville, supplied the scoring. He scored back-to-back baskets, the second coming on a spin move reminiscent of former Shocker Paul Miller, to put WSU up 46-33. Threes by Ragland and Demetric Williams helped build a 55-37 lead.
Then Stutz converted two three-point plays. When SIU doubled him, he found Murry cutting to the basket for a layup and a 63-44 lead with 13:01 remaining.
"The guards kept feeding me the ball," Stutz said. "They did a good job passing it to the right position and the right side of the defender."
Against Evansville, Stutz took advantage of size and experience mismatches. SIU came closer to matching his size with 6-foot-9 sophomore Davante Drinkard. Dantiel Daniels, a 6-foot-6 freshman, is athletic enough to bother him. But neither could match Stutz's experience and moves with either hand around the basket.
"He's 100-percent around the rim," SIU coach Chris Lowery said. "He made us pay every time he caught it. It's hard when he's got his back to the basket and he can go both ways."
SIU contributed to WSU's run with turnovers and bad shots. Lowery counted one pass before each of SIU's first four shots.
"That's how you go on a big run," he said.
WSU returned the favor to let SIU rally. After Murry's layup, the Shockers committed turnovers on three of its next six possessions. After another turnover, SIU's Mamadou Seck scored to cut WSU's lead to 65-60.
Stutz checked back in, but it was Ragland who took over. Murry found him open on a break for a three-pointer and a 70-60 lead. Then he stole a pass from Kendal Brown-Surles. His layup gave WSU a 12-point lead with 3:59 remaining.
Ragland scored 14 of his game-high 20 in the second half when he made 6 of 7 shots.
"We couldn't control Ragland," Lowery said. "He was really good for them down the stretch."
SIU cut the lead to seven before WSU made free throws to ice the game. Murry made 5 of 6 in the final 2:06 and Carl Hall made two.
Lowery felt his team let the Shockers off the hook with quick shots after narrowing the margin.
"Our guys really, really panicked in clutch situations," he said.
That used to be a problem for the Shockers in SIU Arena. No longer — the 11-game losing streak in Carbondale that ended in 2010 is no longer relevant.