Wichita State pounds away at defenses with center Garrett Stutz. Then it can snipe away with three-point shots. The Shockers become impossible to defend when they score from in between, which is where Toure Murry specializes.
WSU grabbed sole possession of first place in the Missouri Valley Conference with Wednesday’s 82-57 win over Northern Iowa on Wednesday at Koch Arena. The Shockers made 12 of 19 three-pointers, burying the Panthers early and again in the second half.
“They were sticking shots from everywhere,” Northern Iowa guard Johnny Moran said. “They came out and hit some hard, tough shots. They had it going.”
Joe Ragland and David Kyles combined to make nine threes. Stutz scored 10 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for his ninth double-double of the season. Murry added 12 points, six coming in a second-half blitz that lift WSU’s lead from five points to 11 and knocked the Panthers out for good.
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“That sequence hurt our chances of really making a run at this game,” Panthers coach Ben Jacobson said.
In the first meeting, Murry sliced up UNI late in the game by scoring eight of WSU’s final 10 points in a 71-67 win in Cedar Falls. This time, he took over earlier the half, beating his defender for mid-range jump shots.
“Toure picked his spots and he made plays,” Ragland said. “He’s confident in himself. He’s just being aggressive.”
WSU (21-4, 12-2 MVC) won its third straight game and heads to No. 17 Creighton on Saturday with a chance to put the second-place Bluejays in a two-game hole with three to play. The Shockers swept UNI (16-10, 6-8) for the second time in 20 seasons.
The Panthers don’t give up points easily — they didn’t allow a team to pass 63 since the loss to WSU on Jan. 18. The Shockers are too balanced and too experienced for the Panthers to shackle for 40 minutes.
As usual, Stutz played a key role. When UNI double-teamed him, he passed out for open shots. The shooters, struggling in MVC play, came up big. WSU made four of its first five shots, all from behind the arc, to go up 12-5. Another three by Demetric Williams made it 17-7.
“Everything was working well,” WSU forward Ben Smith said. “Moving the ball well, screening. We didn’t get a lot of stops, but we got a few.”
That is all WSU needed on a night it shot 55.9 percent from the floor and committed eight turnovers. Ragland made 5 of 7 threes. Kyles made 4 of 4. Smith added two. Jacobson pointed to Smith’s recent addition the starting lineup, in place of Carl Hall, as an effective move. When Stutz looks to pass, he can pick from a bunch of good shooters.
“When Smith is in the lineup, at the power forward spot, and they surround that three-point line with four shooters, that makes it even more difficult,” Jacobson said. “He found the right guy.”
Stutz was credited with one assist, but he often started a sequence that led to an open shot a pass or two away. At times, he made an immediate move to get rid of the ball. Other times, he patiently waited for an opening.
“Sometimes quick is the way to go,” he said. “Sometimes, if you can take your time and handle the double-team it gives your shooters time to spread out and find their spots.”
The Panthers closed the first half with a 13-0 run after trailing 43-22 with 3:28 remaining. A lazy pass by Ragland led to a Panther layup. Ragland’s charging foul led to another basket, cutting the lead to 43-32. After a Shocker miss, Jake Koch faked Kyles into the air, waited for him to pass, and made a three-pointer to end the half.
UNI started the second half with another run, cutting WSU’s lead to 47-44 on a layup by center Seth Tuttle. Ragland’s three pushed the lead to six points. Then Murry made a jumper. UNI’s Marc Sonnen responded with a three.
Murry came back by curling off a screen for a basket. Another Murry jumper gave WSU a 56-47 lead. A Panther turnover gave WSU the ball back, and Murry scored again to make it 58-47. Another UNI turnover led to Stutz finding Hall for a dunk and UNI didn’t get closer than 13 points again.
Tuttle led the Panthers with 15 points.