When coach Cuonzo Martin’s team beat Wichita State in 2011, he said Missouri State kept the Shockers from running, shooting threes and having fun.
Martin is now coach at Tennessee and his delight in defense didn’t change. His 2011 Missouri State Bears, who swept WSU on the way to the Missouri Valley Conference title, held the Shockers to 56 and 64 points. Tennessee (4-3) is winning the same way in Martin’s second season.
“They’re going to try and make it a tough night offensively for the opposing team,” WSU guard Demetric Williams said. “They work hard and they’re physical.”
No. 23 Wichita State is trying to reach 10-0 for the first time in program history. It started 9-0 in 2004-05 and 2006-07 before losing. Getting past that barrier depends on handling Tennessee’s defense.
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The Volunteers hold teams to 23.7-percent shooting from three-point range, ranking sixth nationally. In their past three games — against Oakland, Georgetown and Virginia — the Volunteers limited opponents to 44.3 points and 33.6-percent shooting, 13.1 from three-point range.
“They get after it on defense,” WSU center Carl Hall said.
Just think if they could pair that with some shooters like former MSU players Kyle Weems and Adam Leonard. Martin, however, is working on adding SEC-level scorers. The Volunteers lost 37-36 to Georgetown and 46-38 to Virginia, both strong defensive teams. In its losses (also a 62-45 defeat to Oklahoma State), Tennessee is averaging 39.7 points and shooting 29.1 percent.
More relevant for WSU, however, is Tennessee’s scoring at 21,678-seat Thompson-Boling Arena. It is 2-0 at home with wins over Kennesaw State and Oakland, scoring better than 70 points both times.
The Volunteers, with six days off since losing to Virginia, spent a lot of time worrying about the offense. They shot after practice and vowed to start playing faster.
“We’ve got to get out in transition and run more,” guard Trae Golden said Tuesday. “We’re thinking too much. It will click for us.”
Martin watched his team make shots against lesser opponents.
“You’ve got to make them on a bigger stage,” he said Tuesday. “More than anything, we’ve got to do a better job getting the ball inside to Jarnell Stokes.”
Stokes, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, averages 11.9 points and makes 56.1 percent of his shots. Hall will get most of the defensive duty on Stokes. He may get some help from center Ehimen Orukpe, who is recovering from a sprained ankle.
“Carl’s got to stay out of foul trouble and guard him before he catches it,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “He spins and he’s a whirling dervish down there. Once he gets it, he’s very powerful, so he’s going to come right at you.”
WSU’s nine wins put it in great position as the non-conference schedule winds down. The Shockers are No. 18 in the power rankings (RPI) and can add another significant road win to the resume Thursday.
The 2004-05 team was 9-0 but lost to Manhattan at home. The 2006-07 Shockers fell to New Mexico in Las Vegas to end its run at 9-0. Getting to 10-0 with a win at Tennessee would make a strong December statement about this team’s ability to play in March.