Wichita State, again, puts the mad in Arch Madness.
The 15th-ranked Shockers departed the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament angry and disappointed after Saturday’s 65-64 loss to Illinois State in the semifinal. Many teams would write it off quickly and think happy thoughts about the impending NCAA Tournament berth.
That is not the way WSU (27-5) works. The top-seeded Shockers didn’t like the way they played. They didn’t like the way the game was officiated at crucial moments. They don’t like the fact somebody else is going to win the championship.
They really don’t like the fact the loss adds to a long legacy of frustration in St. Louis.
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“Our goal was to come here and win the tournament,” WSU senior Joe Ragland said. “We’re not looking forward to the NCAA Tournament while we have a game. That’s not how you prepare.”
Fourth-seeded Illinois State (20-12) slipped past the Shockers when Toure Murry and Garrett Stutz came up short on shots in the final seconds. Murry missed a jumper, contested by Illinois State’s Jackie Carmichael, from about 17 feet. The ball went out of bounds, giving WSU another chance with 1.1 seconds to play. Stutz missed a guarded turnaround from about 10 feet, setting off the expected celebration and dejection.
“So we got two shots in the air to win the game and we don’t make it,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “That’s not what cost us the game. We didn’t play well enough to overcome everything we needed to overcome.”
That would include officiating calls that put Stutz in foul trouble, one a technical foul, and limited him to 16 minutes. Marshall and the Shocker bench vigorously protested at least two other decisions late in the game.
Marshall, as he did after losses in 2008 and 2009, gave the impression MVC forces work against his team in St. Louis.
“When Garrett’s out of the game as much as he is, our offense is obviously different,” he said. “It’s just uncharacteristic of Garrett to get a technical foul. (It) didn’t seem like they wanted to see him play too much.”
Illinois State plays No. 25 Creighton at 1 p.m. today in the title game. The Redbirds must win to make the NCAA Tournament. WSU and Creighton are considered certain at-large teams.
When Stutz’s shot bounced off the rim, the alliance of Illinois State and Creighton fans hit peak volume, both seeing the path to a title easier with the Shockers out of the way.
Redbirds guard Tyler Brown, who scored 25 points, pulled his jersey over his head to celebrate. Guard Nic Moore, whose three-pointer gave Illinois State its first lead of the second half, threw the ball into the air. The Shockers, seeing a nine-game winning streak end, slowly walked to shake hands.
“It was crazy,” Brown said. “I’ve never felt something like that before. I’ve never been a part of something that big.”
The Shockers lost despite holding the Redbirds to 33.9-percent shooting and leading by 13 in the first half, eight at halftime and 13 early in the second half. Illinois State, which lost twice to WSU during the regular season, refused to quit. The Shockers, with Stutz limited by fouls, couldn’t produce a game-clinching run of points.
The Redbirds also play short-handed. Backup center Jordan Threloff is out with a broken thumb. Forward John Wilkins was ejected in the second half for a second technical foul, both after scraps with Stutz. Forward Jackie Carmichael played eight first-half minutes due to fouls.
“I think a lot of people turned their TVs off at halftime,” Carmichael said. “It’s not in our nature to give up.”
Illinois State’s defense started with Carmichael altering shots in the lane. Without Stutz to worry about, the Redbirds could pay more attention to WSU shooters. The Redbirds didn’t allow a fast-break point, forcing the Shockers to work against their half-court defense. Unlike most MVC teams, WSU isn’t able to overwhelm the Redbirds with size and quickness.
“They played a hell of a game,” Ragland said. “Athlete-wise, they’re similar to us. Carmichael does a real good job deflecting and contesting shots at the rim we normally make.”
WSU shot 34.9 percent and committed 14 turnovers. The flow and rhythm that produced open shots so prevalent over the past month disappeared.
Stutz scored six points. Ben Smith scored 14, but missed 6 of 8 threes. Murry committed five turnovers.
“At times, we got stagnant running our motion and that hurt us,” Ragland said.
WSU led by five with 10:30 to play. Brown’s three-pointer cut the lead to 55-53. After a turnover by WSU’s David Kyles, Moore sank a corner three to give the Redbirds a 56-55 lead.
WSU led 64-63 with 2:51 remaining. It didn’t score again, thanks to a combination of poor execution and bad bounces. After a wild shot by Illinois State’s Bryant Allen gave WSU the ball with the lead, the Redbirds made a defensive stand. With the shot clock running down, Ragland passed to forward Carl Hall, who was forced to take a 12-foot jumper, a shot that isn’t his strength.
Moore missed a layup, giving WSU two more shots to extend the lead. Demetric Williams missed a three. After a WSU rebound and a timeout with 55 seconds to play, Ragland missed a shot over two defenders.
The Shockers thought they got the ball back again when Murry deflected the ball and it appeared to bounce off Brown and out of bounds. Murry and the WSU bench protested when an official saw it the other way.
Brown then got his own rebound and was fouled with 6.4 seconds remaining. He made both free throws.
A week from today, when NCAA assignments are announced, the Shockers will receive something new to occupy their minds. That won’t make today any easier, when Illinois State and Creighton play for a championship the Shockers felt they were destined to win.