Wichita State ended a long Saturday by getting back to first place in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Long because the game started at 9 p.m. Long because Indiana State showed up with its St. Louis attitude and gave the Shockers fits. Long because the Shockers had three hours to think about the Creighton loss that gave them a chance to tie the Bluejays.
WSU handled all that to defeat the Sycamores 71-66 at Koch Arena. After a cold-shooting first half, the Shockers made 16 of 27 shots in the second half and outscored Indiana State by10 points. Center Garrett Stutz led WSU with 24 points and a career-high 15 rebounds, marking his fourth straight game with 20 or more points.
The Shockers (20-4, 11-2 MVC) outscored Indiana State (14-10, 5-8) by 14 points at the foul line. They made 13 of 15 in the first half to stay close when shots didn’t fall. They made 11 of 15 in the second half.
“We could not buy a basket (in the first half),” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “I thought it affected our energy. (In the second half) we were able to make some baskets, get some stops and improve dramatically.”
Creighton’s loss to Northern Iowa in an afternoon game set the stage. Indiana State, which eliminated the Shockers from the MVC Tournament last season with a suffocating defensive effort, returned to those ways recently. They frustrated the Shockers for most of the first half, refusing to give up easy baskets and keeping Stutz under wraps.
“I missed some easy shots in the first half,” Stutz said. “Coaches got on me a lot, but that’s normal for me. My teammates picked me up. We didn’t veer off from our strategy, continued to throw the ball inside, and it all worked out.”
WSU broke free in the second half by forcing turnovers. Once a few shots fell, the offense worked better and Stutz began to score in the lane. He scored 20 points in the second half.
Guard Joe Ragland sliced up Indiana State’s defense with drives to the basket. He scored seven points in the first half. Toure Murry made 3 of 4 shots in the second half and finished with 14 points. Ben Smith supplied the crucial outside shooting again, although in smaller amounts than Wednesday’s win over Missouri State. Smith sank WSU’s lone three of the game to give the Shockers a 65-56 win with 2:02 to play.
“We just stuck with it as a team and perservered through a really bad first half,” Stutz said. “Guys got running, and we made some very smart plays. The crowd joins in, and everything got going good.”
Indiana State’s Jake Odum scored 21 points, making 5 of 6 three-pointers. Walker added 13.
Indiana State cut the lead to four three times in the final 45 seconds. Stutz made 5 of 6 free throws in the final 27 seconds to keep things from getting any closer.
Indiana State turnovers on four straight possessions got the Shockers and the crowd going in the second half. Down 36-31, the Shockers ran off 10 straight points. Stutz made two free throws after a steal by Demetric Williams. A shot-clock violation led to a jumper by Murry, giving WSU a 37-36 lead. After Carl Richard walked, Stutz scored again for a 39-36 lead. Ragland picked off a Odum pass, and Smith finished off the break by tipping in Murry’s miss.
Sycamores coach Greg Lansing called timeout with 13:47 remaining. The Sycamores ran off five points to tie.
Indiana State’s Walker used his wide body to keep Stutz from getting good position. Instead of layups, Stutz had to use several dribbles and try to to power his way to the hoop. Walker battled him, and Stutz missed 5 of 6 shots in the first half and committed three turnovers. WSU’s outside shooters did little to help. The Shockers missed all seven of their three-pointers, three by Smith.
Indiana State got a break in the final seconds of the first half. After a WSU miss near the end of the shot clock, an official inadvertantly blew his whistle. Some players stopped and some didn’t and the clock ran out. After a huddle, officials put 3.4 seconds back on the clock. Odum dribbled past two Shockers to make a three from about 40 feet. Marshall shook his finger at referee Verne Harris before heading to the locker room.
The Sycamores set the pace most of the half. Their defense frustrated the Shockers, rarely giving them chances to run the break. Indiana State took a 5-0 lead and expanded that to 11-4. A three-point play by Carl Hall sparked the Shockers. Two Indiana State turnovers led to WSU fast breaks and the Shockers cut the lead to 13-11.
WSU took its first lead at 17-15 on two Hall free throws. A turnover and a miss ruined its chances to build that lead.
The Sycamores went up 29-25 on Lucas Eitel’s three. Stutz cut the lead to 29-27 with two free throws. After WSU’s press caused a turnover, the Shockers worked the clock for the final shot of the half. But Ragland’s jumper missed and Indiana State rebounded.
Neither team thrilled the ESPN2 audience with their shooting. WSU made 7 of 29 shots in the half. Indiana State did slightly better, 10 of 28. The Shockers stayed in the game at the foul line, making 13 of 15.