No Garrett Stutz. No big deal. Heck, the Shockers didn’t need Carl Hall, either.
Wichita State routed Southern Illinois 85-42 on Saturday at Koch Arena. The easy win kept the Shockers (17-3, 8-1 Missouri Valley Conference) tied with Creighton atop the conference standings at the halfway point.
Stutz, WSU’s starting center, didn’t play because of back pain. Hall, who started at center instead of his usual power forward spot, committed two fouls in two minutes and sat the rest of the first half.
Against some teams, that’s a problem. Not SIU (6-14, 3-6). WSU’s reserves turned in a sterling performance in relief of Stutz and Hall. The Shockers ran a layup drill against SIU’s porous defense and handed the Salukis their worst loss in 98 seasons of basketball.
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“We laid down,” SIU coach Chris Lowery said. “They steamrolled us. They had one of their better guys out, and they actually played, probably, one of their better all-around games.”
SIU’s issues shouldn’t detract from WSU’s performance. The Shockers never let up and played sharp, unselfish basketball. They committed one turnover in the first half on their way to a 39-16 lead and finished the game with nine. SIU committed 13 turnovers in the first half - seven straight during one stretch - and 22 for the game.
The Shockers took every piece of the mental game and won big. They rallied together with Stutz hurt and Hall on the bench. They fed off the crowd, which grew louder with each WSU dunk and SIU turnover.
“The guys really picked up Garrett Stutz,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “They executed beautifully. They defended really, really, really well. We picked up a teammate who oftentimes has picked us up.”
The Shockers also remembered last season, when the Salukis stunned them at Koch Arena and cost them at least a share of the MVC title.
“That was our mind-set, not to slip,” WSU guard Joe Ragland said. “Especially with our center out, that was tough. We were all mentally prepared.”
Nobody more so than Ehimen Orukpe.
With Stutz hurting, he expected to play more than his usual average of 9.6 minutes. He worked out in the gym until early Saturday morning, listening to music, shooting and getting ready for extended action. Stutz gave him a scouting report on SIU’s big men, advising him to help out on the guards as much as possible.
Then Hall picked up his second foul and WSU needed Orukpe in a big way.
“I’ve just been preparing my mind,” Orukpe said. “I played like I’m expected to play. The more playing experience you get, you’re bound to get better.”
Orukpe blocked two shots and grabbed five rebounds in the first half. He also scored five points. His teammates expected him to contribute and he did.
“Ehimen is our rock defensively,” Ragland said. “He protects the paint well. There were no worries when Carl went out.
The Shockers, playing Orukpe and freshmen Jake White and Tekele Cotton extensively in the first half, dominated. They led 11-4 after two free throws by Toure Murry and 20-4 on a basket by Ben Smith. SIU never threatened and WSU rolled to a 39-16 halftime lead.
The Salukis committed seven straight turnovers to make it easy for the Shockers. The first led to a basket by Orukpe and a 6-4 WSU lead. Murry saved an errant pass, throwing the ball between his legs, and the Shockers got the ball to David Kyles for an open three-pointer. Murry stripped Jeff Early, leading to two free throws. Orukpe’s defense forced SIU freshman Dantiel Daniels to walk and the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
After another SIU turnover, Kyles made a long three for a 14-4 lead. And on it went. SIU couldn’t dribble or pass against WSU’s man-to-man defense. The Shockers converted the turnovers into easy baskets. Even when SIU got set on defense, it gave up layups to driving Shockers.
“They got to the lane at will,” Lowery said. “We did a poor job of guarding their guards.”
Orukpe started the second half in place of Hall and WSU kept running away from SIU.
Ragland and Smith converted three-point plays early in the second half to give WSU a 44-20 lead. After Ragland drove for another layup, the Shockers led 46-22.
With nine minutes remaining, the Shockers on the bench laughed and smiled at every basket. James Anacreon’s baseline jumper gave WSU a 65-31 lead with 8:33 to play.
Kyles, Ragland and Hall each scored 11 for WSU. White scored a season-high 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Orukpe totaled five points and career highs with nine rebounds and four blocks.
Daniels led SIU with 12 points. No other Saluki scored more than six points.